Why Early Childhood Intervention Matters

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Months before your baby arrives, doctors and ultrasound technicians are already measuring your baby's developmental trajectory. They watch for weight gain and a growing body. Sonograms can predict several things about your child before giving birth, including gender, size, and even major physical disabilities or brain abnormalities.

But sonograms cannot predict a child's learning development, even when the results show a negative future. There is no telling how a child will truly advance. They can't tell you when your baby will meet milestones or at what pace they will develop after birth.

So to google we go. We check to see when the baby should crawl, grab things, or eat table food. Some moms, like myself, are more paranoid with being "behind" on the learning curve, and more often than not, it just takes time. All babies gain new skills at different rates and times. Most will catch up, even when not right on the milestone checklist. Some parents notice notable delays early on. Doctors can make judgments about future development based on major physical or brain development issues.

But other issues go undiscovered for a while. Things that may appear below average can be shrugged off as a "slight delay" or still "developmentally appropriate." Some are. Some are not.

Doctors see your child for ten minutes (if that). It's ultimately a parent's responsibility to be aware of the progress of these "slight delays."

WHY DOES IT MATTER?

Children’s earliest experiences play a vital part in the construction of their brain. From 0-3 years old, the rate of development in the brain is the fastest it will ever be in our lifetime. Each occurrence produces an essential part of the growth of their mind.

"Slight delays" that don't progress mature into significant delays. It is not always problematic while they're little, but upon entering school, the gap in missing skills, or skills that are still freshly learned, begin to show.

Trust me when I say I am not about pushing kids to be above average in every matter of learning. I am strongly passionate about getting kids the support they need to succeed. This doesn't have to wait until they're already falling behind. It can be proactive. It can reduce future hardships.

Due to life-long diagnoses, some kids will develop at a slower rate but catching the signs of these delays is what matters.

That's when early childhood intervention (ECI) can step in.

WHAT EXACTLY IS EARLY CHILDHOOD INTERVENTION?

Early intervention consists of services and therapies offered for young children in order to help them succeed and enhance outcomes for their future.

Services are for different lengths of time, depending on the qualifications and needs. Some children are dismissed from services before age 3 and some continue services through special education once they enter school.

ECI doesn't just help the child. It's support for their families. When your child is a newborn and unable to communicate, it's frustrating enough. When they begin to miss milestones or develop them at a slower rate than their age group, it can leave parents feeling helpless.

I know I did.

I was an early childhood teacher, but my certifications couldn't get my 18-month-old to use his words. It made me feel like I was at fault. Maybe I didn't read as many books as I did to my first born.

But it had nothing to do with me. And the only thing I could do was speak up about my concerns.

On one end of the spectrum, there are parents who are highly concerned with small matters that eventually will resolve on their own. On the other end, those who dismiss problems until their child is struggling academically due to years of missing developmental skills.

OUR EXPERIENCE WITH EARLY INTERVENTION

After talking to my son's physician and getting a referral for an early childhood evaluation, they determined that my son had a speech impairment in the area of expressive language.

Since our sessions began, our speech pathologist noticed a need for occupational therapy. He had fine motor skills that were causing him frustration and I didn't even realize it. Thanks to her, we now have an occupational therapist that has joined his support team.

Both of these ladies come every week to our house, joining in on our everyday routine to focus on my little guy. They bring ideas and positive energy to his learning. They sit with me and brainstorm approaches on how to further his skills.

But most of all, they have brought my baby boy so far. Their help has made all of our lives easier at home.

HOW TO KNOW IF YOUR CHILD MAY NEED SERVICES

If your children's pediatric office has a checklist to fill out prior to the appointment, be truthful. Don't try to minimize any issues with your son or daughter's development.

If not, check the child milestones in the areas of physical, cognitive, communication, and social/emotional skills. Don't be worried if your child has minor delays in one area but strengths in all the others. We all have strengths and weaknesses. Give it some time and monitor those areas.

It may just be their ability to grab and hold onto toys functionally. It may only be their ability to express themselves through communication. It may be a whole load of sensory issues.

Whatever the case, if noticeable delays are not advancing, speak to a pediatrician or call your state-funded intervention services. If you have any inclination that your child needs help, don't put it off. Evaluations are free. You can determine if you want to go through with services, should they be needed.

If they are needed, you will have given your child that much more time with the precise help they needed.

AWARENESS IS KEY

This was all common verbiage to me as a special-education preschool teacher. Student after student transitioned into my program from ECI services. Those were the ones that came with a nice stack of paper that listed their current goals, needs, weaknesses, and past progress. Kids without current or previous assistance quickly turned into months of data collection and testing before moving into the correct support system.

It was so common to me that I didn't have any issue requesting it for my own child. I understood the benefits outweighed the idea of assuming "he'll be fine."

So, I polled some mom and teacher groups. Majority of them, non-preschool teachers included, had no clue that these services were offered before school age. That's when I realized that it's not just parents in denial. It's parents that are unaware. Then I read shocking reports from the American Association of Pediatrics that "providers report they are unclear and unaware which children to refer and to which resources...As a result, many children identified do not receive follow-up services early to address the delays identified."

Not even all medical providers understand the services available. It's no wonder that "fewer than 25% of children eligible for early intervention (EI) services use them."

Being aware of your own children's skills and sharing your stories, or stories like this one, of early childhood intervention, are what spread knowledge to better our future.

It may be major. It may be minor. No matter the developmental delay, it is important to start now.

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Sources:

Magnusson, D.M., Minkovitz, C.S, Kuhlthau, K.A., Caballero,T.M., Mistry, K.B. (2017). Beliefs Regarding Development and Early Intervention Among Low-Income African American and Hispanic Mothers. Pediatrics Nov 2017, 140 (5) e20172059; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2017-2059

Colleen Reuland, Suzanne Dinsmore, David Ross.Ensuring Young Children Identified on Developmental Screening Receive Follow-Up: Lessons From A Community-Based Approach Engaging Primary Care, Early Intervention, and Early Learning System Providers. Pediatrics May 2018, 142 (1 MeetingAbstract) 779-789; DOI: 10.1542/peds.142.1_MeetingAbstract.779-a