What is Early Intervention?

Early InterventionEarly intervention is a set of services and resources provided to children between birth and age six who have learning delays, or who have developmental or physical disabilities. The program, which was created by Congress in 1986 and is administered by each state individually, is designed to provide support for families who may need assistance in promoting the healthy academic and social development of their children. Read on to learn more about early intervention programs and what they may entail.

What Services Are Included in Early Intervention?

Early intervention programs vary widely depending on the individual needs of each family, as well as on the resources available in that particular community. The services provided may include, but are not limited to, devices that can assist children in communicating, audiology and hearing aids, medical services, education and training for families and care providers, mental health counseling, in home and other types of nursing, nutrition counseling and services, occupational and/or physical therapy, social work, coordination of various services, speech-language pathology, vision services, and more.

Who Is Eligible for Early Intervention?

Early intervention services may be provided to babies and toddlers and their families who are not meeting developmental milestones in one or more of five target areas: physical, cognitive, communicative, social, and/or the ability to do tasks such as eat and dress oneself. If a child’s pediatrician suspects a developmental delay, or if a child has a disability that is known to cause such delays, he or she will provide parents with a referral to the local department that manages early intervention services. Different states have different definitions of developmental delay, so eligibility varies by state. In most states, known disabilities automatically qualify a child to receive services. A list of these definitions is available from Early Childhood Technical Assistance.

What Should You Do If  You’re Concerned About Your Child’s Development?

If you are not sure if your child is meeting milestones as well as they should, the sooner they are evaluated the better. Talk with his or her pediatrician, who may be able to provide guidance about whether your child’s development is on track for his or her age. If the doctor is concerned, they will provide you with a referral to your local early intervention office. A highly trained specialist in early childhood development will then evaluate your child to determine whether he or she would benefit from services and which services will be most useful to help promote healthy development and help your child “catch up.” You can find a list of local early intervention programs online at Early Childhood Technical Assistance. Under federal law, this evaluation and the resulting services are provided at no cost to your family.

Related Resource: Educational Psychologist

To learn more about early intervention, you can visit the nonprofit Center for Parent Resources and Information. If your child has a developmental delay or disability, early intervention is an important resource to support his or her quality of life and future success.