Early Intervention: Give Your Child a Head Start!

What is early intervention and why is it so important?

I like to use analogies, so imagine that you are about to enter a bicycle race. At the starting line, you discover that your bike has a few problems. Some of the gears aren’t functioning properly, and one of your wheels isn’t correctly aligned. You can’t get a new bike, so you are given permission to start the race early. Along the way, you’ll be able to stop at various checkpoints where mechanics will assess how your bike is holding up.

This is the principle of early intervention for children with special needs. They are starting their life’s journey with disadvantages, in a world that will move forward and leave them behind. Early intervention gets the “race” started early for these kids and provides them with services and “checkpoints” to determine how they’re managing. This is why early intervention programs are sometimes called head start.

Early intervention programs might include speech therapy with a speech language pathologist, a special preschool class, behavioral therapy, physical therapy where a specialist comes to your home to help your child improve motor skills, and other kinds of programs that your child might need.

Studies have shown that children between the ages of zero and three are in a crucial phase of development. If rigorous intervention efforts are made during these three years, the child’s outlook can be improved considerably.

Every State Has an Early Intervention Program.

Early Intervention services are mandated by the Federal Government. According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA), children from the ages of zero to three with developmental delays are eligible for these head start programs. Early intervention is a joint effort involving community programs, government agencies, school districts, and medical facilities. The programs available to your child vary depending on the state you live in. Typically, the child and his family are assigned a social worker who will help develop an IFSP (Individualized Family Service Plan). This plan outlines what kind of early intervention programs will best help your child.

How will I know if my child qualifies?

Your child will qualify if he is found to have either of these two conditions: He has (1) a diagnosed condition causing disability, or (2) he has a developmental delay of unknown causes.

When a baby is born, the infant is immediately assessed by qualified professionals in the hospital. The baby is evaluated for any condition(s) which may be associated with disabilities, like low birth weight, decreased muscle tone, low Apgar scores, or other physical signs connected with genetic disorders. If it appears that the infant has any risk factors, the family will be referred to their state’s early intervention program.

If your child appears normal at birth but sometime later falls behind in reaching developmental milestones, you must take the initiative to start the evaluation process yourself. This usually begins with a simple trip to your pediatrician, where you thoroughly discuss your observations. If your child’s doctor does not seem concerned, have him or her explain his position clearly. If you are still worried, you should contact your state’s early intervention program.

How can I locate the Early Intervention Program in my state?

Start by visiting the NICHCY website (National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities) and click on “state resources.” Find your state, and see what is listed there. Make phone calls, and explain your situation. You should be directed to find the resources you need for assessments and services.

Another terrific site is www.zerotothree.org.

Related Article: How Early Intervention Helped Our Family