What are early intervention services? The term refers to services given to very young children with developmental delays and disabilities, generally from birth until the child turns three.1 For this reason, these programs are sometimes called "Birth to 3" or "Zero to 3." Learn more about early intervention services and why they benefit disabled children and their families with this overview.
What Early Intervention Services Include
Early intervention services include speech therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy.2 They are provided either in an office or in the child's home. The hope is that these services, provided early, will address any delays in development so that the child will need less intensive services (or no services) later on.3 At age 3, if a child still needs help, they might be referred to the school district for special education preschool.
How to Find Services
Your pediatrician should be able to refer you to the agency that handles early intervention in your area. If not, find your state's office in charge of early intervention and make the contact directly. A doctor's referral is not required to get an evaluation.1 Your child will be evaluated by therapists and experts in early childhood education to identify problems that might respond to early intervention.
Every state has certain disabilities or conditions that automatically qualify a child for early intervention.4 The evaluation will inform an Individualized Family Services Plan (IFSP), which will lay out the plans for your child's early intervention.
Why These Programs Help Parents
In addition to getting your child assistance with the earliest developmental milestones, early intervention can be a milestone in your parenting. It will mark your first experience with evaluations, team meetings, jargon-filled documents, and test scores, all of which may seem overwhelming at first.
Unless early intervention takes care of all your child's issues, you will likely have this experience again and again as your child rolls through special education. Your advocacy style may be fairly low-key, and the decisions made may seem to be relatively low-stakes now. In reality, however, the experiences you have now will start to shape the advocate you'll become as your child enters K-12 schools.
Early intervention is also a good opportunity to start practicing the sort of collaboration you'll hope to build later with school personnel.5
Therapists in particular can be a good source of exercises to do between sessions to promote your child's growth and development. Particularly if they're in your home, be sure to ask questions and pick their brains and take advantage of their expertise to build your own. Your child is not the only one who will be building new skills.
Some parents postpone getting early intervention services for their children.4 They may reason that their child is just slower than others and will catch up to their peers soon enough.
This is not only wishful thinking, but it can also be detrimental to a child's potential. Early intervention can significantly improve a child's social, educational, and emotional outcomes, so don't avoid these services.3 Welcome them!