What is Early Intervention? How do I know if my child could benefit?

At Milestones & Miracles, we are passionate about our new work, developing age appropriate and supportive products for young families (we’re getting closer to having release date of 1-2-3 Just Play With Me (can’t wait to share!). But we are equally passionate about our “day jobs.” We are proud to serve children and families in our home state through Early Intervention.

So what is Early Intervention (sometimes referred to as EI) and how do you know if your child would benefit?  Each state and US Provence offers EI services as mandated under Part C of IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). More information at: http://nichcy.org/laws/idea/partc Each state has freedom to make some decisions about how their individual program runs.  Some  differences that exist include: ages served (some cover children birth to three years old and others birth to five years old), where services are held (although research and the law support in the child’s natural environment for optimal results), cost (in some states service is free and in others there is a small charge), and eligibility criteria.  For example, in our state, children qualify for our program by having one or more of the following:  1) an established condition (examples include diagnosis such as Cerebral Palsy, Downs Syndrome, or vision and hearing impairment among others), 2) Showing substantial delay in one area of development (greater than 40% delay), or moderate delays in two areas (25% in two or more areas), or by 3) having 5 or more risk factors for delay (including factors such as serious parental concern, having siblings or parents with disabilities).

In most cases, a pediatrician refers a child who may qualify to a program, but in many states a concerned parent can make the referral themselves. A team of professionals evaluate the child and help determine eligibility for the program.  If the child is found eligible, the team (including the family) develops an IFSP (individual family service plan, similar to an IEP in the school setting). This plan is directed by the family’s goals for the child and their family and outlines how the team will support them in meeting these goals.  The difference between early intervention services vs. medical based services is that the intervention is parent led and professional supported.  Parents are integral to the services. Professionals assess children on an ongoing basis and educate through modeling strategies, answering questions, and providing educational information.  The EI team supports the child’s most effective teacher, their parent, to further explore their world in many ways and work toward age typical skills.  Who leads this education based intervention? Therapists (occupational, speech, and physical), developmental specialists, dietitians, nurses, and social workers.  Someone on the team helps manage the services and determine if services provided are meeting the needs of the family. In some states this is a service provider and in other states it is another individual, such as a service coordinator.

Why are we passionate about it? Simple. IT WORKS. We are able to encourage parents to teach thir children in the setting where they live and play. If a child is having trouble with social interaction with peers, we can jump into a playgroup setting.  If a daycare provider needs educated on techniques to help a baby sit in a high chair, we can provide help. We support families with feeding, sleep, and behavior challenges. We have the resources to  support families in emotional or financial turmoil in working toward independence.  We love our program and believe in it because it empowers parents to teach their own children in their own environment. When our system works and that family reaches independence, we are proud to have worked ourselves out of job and watch families thrive.

How do you know if your child or a child you know might qualify for EI? If your child has a diagnosis, was premature, or if your current social situation may impact your child’s development, he or she may qualify. If you notice a delay in social-emotional, fine motor (using hands), gross motor (getting around), communication (talking OR understanding language), or cognitive (thinking and reasoning) development compared to typical peers, the child may qualify. If there are concerns with hearing, vision, or nutrition, the child may also qualify.  Talk to your pediatrician about your concerns and the EI program in your state.  Studies support the fact that our brains are most responsive to intervention and have the highest rate of positive change in response to that intervention before the age of five. So, if you have concerns – don’t wait! Looking into EI now will help an eligible infant and toddler learn as they grow into an older child.

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