What is "Early Intervention"?
When a child is born with a disability or does not develop motor, language, social, or cognitive skills typically, parents may find themselves seeking out support in the form of early intervention therapies. The term "early intervention" applies to therapies that children from birth to age three years old can receive to help them achieve developmental milestones.
Depending on the state you live in, and your child's needs, there is a range of early intervention services that may be available. Speech and language pathologists, board-certified behavior analysts, physical therapists, occupational therapists, special education teachers, and early intervention teachers are all clinicians who could be part of your child's "team."
Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP)
Parents are critical members of their child's early intervention team. Together, they identify "goals" and "objectives" that are the skills that your child will work hard to develop. The plan will also include the related services (OT, PT, SLP, BCBA) that will help your child make that progress. This plan is called an Individualized Family Service Plan or IFSP. The name alone signifies the important role that parents and caregivers play in their child's development! For more information on the IFSP document, check out this great resource.
Building Relationships with your Early Intervention Clinicians
As parents struggle to understand a new diagnosis, decipher a new IFSP document, and navigate the world of early intervention, it's easy to feel overwhelmed. Parents can overlook the importance of developing relationships with your child’s clinicians, but investing in these relationships will contribute to your child's growth and progress.
The role of the occupational therapist in early intervention can be instrumental to a family's understanding. Occupational therapists have critical skills in child development but they also have additional training to consider psychological, familial, and cultural practices that support the early intervention team.
Occupational therapists are to assist, empower, teach, and support families when providing intervention services to facilitate children’s development and growth. Your family's and child's goals help to drive the services they receive, so be sure to ask questions and seek solutions that meet your family dynamics.
Getting the Most Out of Your Early Intervention Journey
Here are a few suggestions for parents and caregivers to maximize the early intervention experience for your child and family.
Be involved in your child’s therapy sessions. Observe and ask to be involved to help him feel safe and learn while in your loving presence.
You are the expert on your child. Help your child’s therapists understand what brings him joy - the quickest path to learning new things!
Trust your intuition. If an intervention or situation doesn't feel right to you, speak up about your concerns. Ideally, this should happen as a private conversation when your child is not present, or in an IFSP team meeting.
Share your parental, cultural, and religious values with your OT and other team members. This helps providers to understand your child and family better. Overall this can empower the treatment plan and goals developed for you child.
Encourage relationships with your child's clinicians that focus on a strength-based relationship model as opposed to always considering your child in terms of his/her disability. Your interactions will be more positive and you'll be more mindful of progress when framing each new skill in a positive way!
Note about the Co-Author:
Anna June Schug is an occupational therapist who owns Kids Life Tools, in St.Petersburg, Florida. Her focus is to help children learn to take control of their learning environment and restructure it in order to make it work for their unique learning variation. She helps children cultivate their minds by addressing their weaknesses and individual strengths. Anna June has experience with early intervention, sensory processing, and learning disabilities. She uses aquatic therapy for a number of interventions when working with children. Anna can be reached at: Kids Life Tools, LLC. by email @firstname.lastname@example.org or via phone at 1-239-233-112.1