Wondering if your child needs early intervention can be scary. Parents want their children to grow, learn, and have typical development. Since every child develops at their own pace, it is hard sometimes to realize what is typical, and what is not. If you notice something is different, you may ask, “What kind of help would my child need?” Many different types of early intervention services exist, but it may be difficult to know what is right for your child.
Early Intervention is a system of services that help children from birth to age three with developmental delays or disabilities. Early intervention is a program to help babies and toddlers learn basic and new skill that are developmentally age appropriate. Areas such as physical, cognitive, communication, social-emotional, and self-help skills are what the therapist focuses on. “The goal of this program is to promote development of infants and toddlers with delays and disabilities, reduce the need for special education services, enhance families' capacity to meet the special needs of their child, and increase identification.” (Cibaby.org).
In Indiana, the name of the early intervention program is First Steps. To receive First Steps services you must have a referral. Doctors normally give the referral, especially if the parent mentions the concern at an appointment. After First Steps receives the referral, they call the family to set up a meeting. At the meeting, the coordinator sets up a date and time for the evaluation. During the evaluation the therapists play with the child. The evaluation is based on the age. The therapist checks to see what your child knows compared to what is expected of the child’s age group. The therapist may have your child roll, jump, sort, or talk. They evaluate for all areas of development to see what services the child may qualify for.
First Steps services include three main therapies: speech/language, physical, and occupational. There are different services for different needs. Some children qualify for more than one therapy, but each therapy has a focus.
Speech-language therapy is for children who have a delay in their speech or language. Parents may notice an occasional error in their child’s speech, or may think their child does not speak as clearly as his peers. The best thing to do is to get a referral for an evaluation. Some speech disorders include: articulation disorder, fluency disorder, receptive disorder, expressive disorder, and Dysphagia. Speech/language pathologists work with children through song, games, flash cards, and much more.
Physical therapy is for children who have a physical delay. It can be something simple, as in the child is not crawling at an age appropriate time, or more intense, like a child born with Cerebral Palsy. A doctor may refer a child for physical therapy if the child has an injury, is born with a disability that may limit the child’s movement, or does not develop typically. A physical therapist works with the child by using strength building exercises, water therapy, building flexibility, and practicing balance and coordination activities.
Occupational therapy focuses on developing independence. Wendy Harron says, “Some people may think that occupational therapy is only for adults; kids, after all, do not have occupations. But a child's main job is playing and learning, and occupational therapists can evaluate kids' skills for playing, school performance, and daily activities and compare them with what is developmentally appropriate for that age group.” (kidshealth.org) This is a great explanation of an Occupational therapist’s job. Some children may need occupational therapy if they have birth defects, sensory processing disorder, autism, learning/behavior problems, and developmental delays .
Early Intervention is an amazing program of services for children. The program focuses on getting the best of each child. Did you know that if a child needs services and is enrolled in a therapy before the age of five they have a better outcome? Since there are so many services an early intervention program offers, they will help you find what will work for your child. Their goals are what your goals, as a parent, should be. Help your child achieve all their dreams, and start early!