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What is Early Intervention

Author: Amy Pole

Early intervention services are the support available to babies and young children with developmental delays and disabilities and their families. Early Intervention is not treatment or diagnosis specific, but used with infants and young children who have been identified as having developmental delays or who are at risk for delays in the future.

The primary goal of early intervention is to improve the long-term prognosis of the child by working with the brain in the critical early stages of development (Magerl, 2022). These services may include occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy, or other support that the child or family may need.


Why is Early Intervention Important?

Early intervention is very important because by targeting developmental challenges at a young age, the child can learn new skills and overcome difficulties which can increase independence and success in school and life.

In the first years of life, our brains are primed for learning as they are rapidly developing. During these early years, the brain is developing new pathways and connections as well as “pruning” unused pathways. Therefore, the more the brain can be stimulated and used through therapy, the more likely the child will be able to develop and learn in the future (Magerl, 2022).

What is the Process to get Early Intervention services?

If a child’s doctor, other care provider, or parent are concerned about the child’s development, the child can be evaluated for early intervention services. A comprehensive assessment will be completed looking at the child’s skills and abilities, including fine motor, gross motor, language, and cognitive skills. If the child qualifies for services, they will be provided to the family for free. Early intervention services are typically provided to children under the age of three, but in some states and territories, services can extend through the age of five.

What is Occupational Therapy’s Role?

Occupational therapy practitioners promote function and engagement of infants and toddlers in everyday routines. Some areas occupational therapy practitioners can address are activities of daily living, rest and sleep, play, education, and social participation (The American Occupational Therapy Association, 2014).

Supporting the family in the care and understanding of their child is a major goal of early intervention. Therapy will involve teaching the family how to interact, choose activities, and create environments that are more beneficial for development (Magerl, 2022). Understanding how the child learns, plays, and communicates can help develop strong family relationships and give caregivers the tools to advocate for their child in the future.

Occupational therapy practitioners work with both children and their families in the home environment to promote development and participation where the child lives and plays. Working with the family in the natural environment helps promote carry over of therapeutic activities between sessions to further enhance the child’s development.

Occupational therapy services must be family-centered and may be involved in the family’s routines, such as feeding, play, dressing, bathing, and hygiene, in order to provide feedback and strategies to enhance development in the moment. The family can then incorporate successful techniques into their regular routine.

Global Considerations

It is important to consider culture when working with families in early intervention. For example, in Kazakhstan, having a child with a disability often brings shame, guilt, and social exclusion. WFOT explains how occupational therapy practitioners in Kazakhstan regularly organize meetings for children with disabilities and their families which provides a safe place for families to get social support and brings a sense of belonging. In these groups, children have a chance to connect through play and games, while parents connect through activities such as an art session. Because talking about emotions is not common in the culture in Kazakhstan, art provides a way for parents to express themselves. Parents can also have the chance to share experiences, support each other, and provide advice. This approach can be applied in many other countries where disability is not widely accepted.

Countries around the world are in varying stages of developing early intervention programs. For example, in the United States, publicly funded early intervention programs are available in every state and territory for free or at a reduced cost for eligible children (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019). Funding for early intervention services are provided through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA). However, not all countries have this type of funding available.

It is important for occupational therapists to advocate for early intervention services and funding in countries that are in early stages of development to ensure that all children globally have the access to these critical services at a young age to promote health and quality of life.

References


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019, December 9). What is “Early Intervention”? https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/parents/states.html

Magerl, Petra. (2022, June). Word of the President. https://wfot.org/assets/resources/KEA-June-2022-Eng.pdf

The American Occupational Therapy Association. (2014). What is the Role of Occupational Therapy in Early Intervention?


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