Optimal growth and development ensure a child can navigate through life smoothly and independently. It is vital for their future success in both their personal and professional lives. While it is true that comparing kids is not the best way to ascertain whether a child is growing well because kids grow at their own pace, as parents, teachers, and caregivers, there is a need to be on the lookout for signals that may indicate a disability or a developmental delay. Identifying these issues early on helps nip them in the bud so that there are fewer chances of requiring intensive interventions in the future.
With this in mind, states have established early intervention programs to help young children become the best versions of themselves. In this write-up, we will discuss some of its details and see the types and examples of various early interventions available.
What is early intervention, and why is it important?
Early intervention encompasses a wide variety of support services offered to children from birth to age 3 to help them overcome their developmental delays and disabilities. It focuses on physical skills, cognitive skills, communication skills, various adaptive skills, and social and emotional skills. Early support in these areas allows struggling children to catch up with their peers and reach their full potential. It also prepares families to look after their children and provides them access to various supports required for their child.
Whenever a child is suspected to have a developmental delay, parents, pediatricians, or caregivers can refer them to their state’s early intervention department. Upon receiving an intimation, a service coordinator gets in touch with the family and helps through the entire process. A team of specialists then evaluates the child and determines if he or she is eligible for the program. Once established, support services are offered to the child and their families at home or through community programs.
Early intervention is usually offered by state governments, and each state has its own unique program. The good part is that all these programs are funded by the federal government, and therefore, families can avail of these support services free of charge or at a nominal cost.
Types and examples of early interventions for supporting young children
1. Physical Therapy
Kids having trouble with gross motor skills like sitting, standing, crawling, or walking in their early years can benefit from physical therapy. A physical therapist works with the child to address challenges related to coordination, strength, or balance. Intervention in these areas helps a child strengthen their gross motor skills and achieve proper movement. It also supports children who need adaptable devices like walkers for ease of movement.
- Using obstacle courses and balance beams for building strength and coordination
- Exercises and activities to strengthen muscles
- Gait training for kids with walking difficulties
2. Occupational Therapy
Occupational therapists are professionals who work with kids to provide early intervention in the areas addressed by occupational therapy. It basically involves helping kids develop the necessary skills to perform their daily activities. Fine motor skills to grasp small items, cognitive skills to carry out tasks, and sensory processing are a few things that occupational therapy takes care of.
- Using finger painting and playing with small objects to enhance fine motor skills
- Playing with sensory bins, jumping on a trampoline, and swinging to help kids with sensory processing issues
- Teaching children to use utensils for feeding and dressing techniques to foster self-care
3. Speech Therapy
This type of early intervention is meant for kids with problems related to speech and language skills. Unclear speech, stuttering, voice problems, and feeding problems like trouble eating or swallowing are handled with speech therapy.
Speech-language pathologists help kids build skills pertaining to expressive and receptive communication through the use of tools like pictures, gestures, and specific digital devices meant for these purposes. By helping kids learn how to express themselves, these professionals encourage them to overcome speech-related obstacles effectively.
- Using picture cards to help build vocabulary and improve communication
- Playful tongue exercises and sound imitation games to teach a toddler with a speech delay
- Practicing smooth speech patterns and breathing techniques for stuttering
4. Hearing and Vision Services
Kids with hearing loss or vision problems are also entitled to receive early intervention. Audiologists perform tests to check for hearing loss, provide assistance in finding a suitable hearing device for the child, and teach lip-reading to support communication.
They help parents and caregivers understand the special needs of their children and equip them with relevant knowledge. Similarly, kids with vision issues can receive support in terms of assessment and equipment like glasses to enhance their vision.
- Providing a child with hearing aids for a hearing impairment
- Regular vision screenings and the provision of corrective lenses to enhance vision
5. Medical and Nursing Services
Medical services are also offered to children who are entitled to receive early intervention. Families and healthcare teams collaborate to determine which medical services (general and specialty) are necessary to achieve the best health outcomes for the child. Nurses, too, work closely with the entire team, offering their nursing services and providing input related to the child’s development and medical concerns.
- Conducting routine health assessments to track a child’s growth and development
- Offering specialized medical care when needed
6. Nutrition Services
Good nutrition is necessary for healthy development. Kids with developmental delays may have issues with feeding, and that is where nutrition services kick in. Nutritionists offering tailored services look into the nutritional needs of a child, their feeding preferences, skills, and habits to devise a plan that ensures the child meets daily caloric requirements and receives essential nutrients to support growth and development. They even guide parents on how they can ensure their child gets the nutrition they need.
- Creating personalized meal plans
- Offering guidance on proper nutrition and feeding techniques for a child with oral motor difficulties
- Conducting nutritional assessments and dietary counseling for kids with weight-related concerns
7. Family Training and Counseling
Supporting families is equally important as supporting a child with a delay or disability. It prepares them to better care for their child and create an environment that supports the child in overcoming their challenges. For this and more, counseling and training are provided to family members so they feel empowered and confident in raising and assisting their special needs child.
- Teaching parents strategies for managing challenging behaviors in children with developmental delays
- Providing support and counseling to families dealing with the emotional impact of their child’s diagnosis
- Offering workshops on parenting techniques for families in early intervention
8. Alternative Learning Methods
As young kids with challenges may not fare well with traditional approaches, therapists use alternative learning approaches like play-based therapy, music therapy, animal-assisted therapy, and other technology-based interventions to target a child’s developmental difficulties and support their growth.
- Utilizing storytelling and role-playing to enhance language development in children
- Incorporating music and movement activities to engage children with developmental delays
9. Psychological Services
These services are vital to helping a child receiving early intervention. A child’s struggles often affect their mental well-being and the way they behave and react in different situations. Through psychological services, psychologists evaluate the child’s behavior and mental health and decide on effective strategies to help the child. Psychological services are not limited to early intervention and are provided to the child in school if they need them through special education services.
- Providing cognitive-behavioral therapy to address anxiety or behavioral issues in children
- Offering parent-child interaction therapy to strengthen parent-child relationships
10. Assistive Technology
Children are also provided with assistive technology to help them gain independence in their daily activities. It is a great way to promote self-esteem and active participation in children facing different challenges. When an assistive device is included in the Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP), the service coordinator makes sure the device is made available for the child at the earliest.
- Introducing a communication device with speech output for a non-verbal child
- Customizing computer software with adaptive features for a child with motor impairments
- Providing training on using assistive technology tools
The key to successful early intervention is in the word “early.” Although older children are eligible for a host of services to help them conquer their challenges, providing support at an early age brings out the best results. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a baby’s brain is most adaptable from birth to age 3.
As the child grows older, their adaptability reduces, making it harder for them to show improvements. Therefore, identifying developmental delays and disabilities earlier in their lives and providing necessary intervention can bring numerous short- and long-term benefits that have a positive impact throughout their lives.
I am Priyanka Sonkushre, a writer and blogger. I am the person behind “One Loving Mama,” a mom blog. Equipped with a Bachelor’s degree along with an MBA, my healthcare background helps me deeply understand learning difficulties. I know how challenging it can be for parents to find the right resources to help their children excel in life. So, here I am to blend my healthcare expertise with my parenting experience to create valuable and helpful resources for parents and teachers supporting children with learning differences. If you wish, you can follow me on Facebook and LinkedIn.