Understanding the Impact of Early Intervention

As a parent or
caregiver of a young child, you may come across questions or concerns regarding
your child’s behavior and development. While it may be easier to tell
yourself he’s just a late bloomer; they’ll catch up, it likely won’t provide
you peace of mind. If you’ve found yourself noticing signs that are raising
flags, it’s certainly worth a call or trip to your child’s pediatrician. At
Blossom Behavioral Wellness Center, we are dedicated to offering early
intervention services to children with autism spectrum disorders and other
challenges. We are firm believers in the tremendous impact early intervention and ABA therapy have on a
child’s development and want to help you understand why.

What is Early Intervention?

Early intervention is a combination of services and supports available to infants and young children, as well as their families, who have a developmental delay and/ or disability. Common services provided during early intervention are ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis), Speech and Language Therapy and Occupational Therapy. Through Early Intervention, a team of professionals will begin by assessing where your child is developmentally. At that point, the team will come up with a plan to teach the skills they need to catch up with their peers. This is especially important to do while they are young before their brains are fully developed and they have created strong patterns in behavior.

Early intervention has continued to make an enormous
difference in the lives of children with various delays and disabilities, including
autism spectrum disorder. When services such as ABA therapy are introduced at an early age,
preferably before the age of four, the rate of success for long-lasting change is
much higher. Early
intervention can make a significant difference in your child’s life by:

  • Modifying
    behaviors early, before they have become difficult habits to change
  • Teaching
    new skills and routines
  • Increasing
    independence

Finding
Early Intervention
Services

Early Intervention services come in many different shapes and sizes. Intervention services like ABA can be found through private providers. With a diagnosis, often insurance providers with cover these services. However, there are also early intervention services and programs that are publicly funded and offered at the state level. If your child is eligible to receive services, they are free of charge within these systems or are provided at a significantly reduced cost. More information on early intervention services by state can be found here.

Eligibility
for Services

Determining if your child qualifies for services is based on several criteria. An evaluation will be completed to assess your child’s various skills and abilities. As the parent, you can reach out with concerns and request an evaluation even without a doctor’s referral. For children that are under the age of three, the request for an evaluation and information on services can be made by calling your state’s early intervention service line If your child is over the age of three, you will want to reach out to one of your local public elementary schools for service and evaluation information. Local public schools offer early intervention programs under their special education pre-school programs beginning at age three. If you see signs that your child may be behind, and you don’t have a diagnosis yet it is possible for you to seek out early intervention services privately, although you should keep in mind that insurance may not cover these services without a diagnosis.

Be
Proactive: Additional Measures You Can Take

As
your child’s parent
or primary caregiver, your concerns, no matter how small, are valid. You know
him best and will always be his most prominent advocate. Call your pediatrician
and ask for a developmental screening for your child if you have concerns.

What
is Developmental Monitoring?

Developmental monitoring is observing your child’s growth and the changes that have occurred over particular segments of time. It looks at whether your child is meeting developmental milestones. Milestones are recorded for:

  • Playing
  • Learning
  • Communication
  • Behavior
  • Motor skills

A missed
milestone may be a sign there is an issue. Your pediatrician will be able to
schedule and perform more in-depth tests if necessary. A list of signs to look
out for can be found here https://www.autismspeaks.org/learn-signs-autism.

What
to Expect From a Developmental Screening

A developmental
screening will take a more in-depth look at your child’s development. You will
be asked to provide valuable information about your child, usually in the form
of a survey, then in conversation with your pediatrician. Your doctor will have
access to an array of tools used during developmental and behavioral screenings.
They may range from formal questionnaires to checklists. Questions about your
child’s development will include:

  • Language
  • Motor skills
  • Cognitive skills
  • Behavior
  • Emotional health

Developmental
screenings do not necessarily have to be performed by your child’s doctor or
nurse.   Professionals in healthcare, the community, or
school settings are trained and able to assist you with a screening.

Your child
should be seen for a developmental screening if you continue to have any
concerns after monitoring. However, it is important to mention that some
pediatricians conduct developmental screenings as part of their well-child
visits. Do not be alarmed if you did not request one. It may be a thorough but
very routine practice at your doctor’s office.

Recommended by
the American Academy of Pediatrics, developmental and behavioral screenings
should be done for all children at their well-child visits when they reach the
ages of:

  • Nine months
  • 18 months
  • 24 or 30 months

What
is a Developmental Evaluation?

You will
not receive a diagnosis for your child based on a developmental screening. It
can, however, indicate whether your child is on track developmentally or if it
is time for a specialist to be consulted. If one of the developmental screening
tools used indicates an area of possible concern, a formal developmental
evaluation
 would be your next step. The formal evaluation is a
more in-depth study of your child’s development. You will likely be referred to
a trained specialist, such as a:

  • Developmental pediatrician
  • Speech-language
    pathologist
  • Child
    psychologist
  • Occupational
    therapist

The
specialist’s role is to observe your child and implement a structured evaluation.
You and all caregivers will be asked a variety of questions, to get a clear
understanding of your child, how he behaves and learns in his natural
environments. The results of this formal evaluation are what determine whether he
could benefit from early
intervention services.

The
Impact of Taking Steps NOW

Taking
early action can have an enormous impact on your child’s development. You can
see what a lengthy process it can be, so acting now is in the best interest of
your child. Studies have shown the effectiveness of early intervention is more significant when
you can begin at a younger age. Introducing services as early as possible
offers the most potential for success in areas including:

  • Communication
  • Self-control
  • Play
  • Self-care skills
  • Social/emotional development
  • Cognitive development
  • School readiness

Early Intervention and the Brain

We
know that a child’s brain is rapidly developing from infancy to age three. Neural
circuits, or connections, in your child’s brain, are laying the foundation for
his health and wellness, behavior, and learning. Each of your child’s
experiences before he reaches the age of three has a critical impact on his
brain’s development. As he becomes older, it is more difficult to change the
connections that have been formed. During these first three years, we can help strengthen
a child’s development through:

  • Balanced
    nutrition
  • Providing
    a safe and nurturing environment
  • Positive
    social and emotional experiences
  • Reduction
    in environmental stress, such as extreme poverty, or abuse in the home

Early Intervention Effects on the Family

Early
services benefit your family as well as your child. You will be provided with
the tools and support you need to understand better, communicate with, and work
with your child to meet their goals. Through education, training, and coaching,
you will be armed with the knowledge necessary to work with your child in his
natural environments. Support for your family helps reduce stress, provide
additional resources, and work together towards common goals for your child.

What
is Part C?

Part C
is the Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities Act. Part of IDEA (the
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), Part C was created to address the
need for education and services for young children with developmental delays. It
was added to IDEA in 1986 in order to:

  • Offer early intervention to preschool-aged children
  • Reduce the potential risk of further
    developmental delays
  • Prepare young children for school while
    reducing the need and expense of special education services
  • Protect children with any medical
    condition that could potentially lead to developmental delays
  • Encourage and build partnerships between
    all necessary programs and agencies to provide services, rather than act alone

Making
the Most of Your Wait

As
you can imagine, being a publicly funded state program can have its
limitations. You may be faced with quite a wait time until you can start your
child’s evaluation process and/or start necessary intervention services. While
we know this can be frustrating, there are steps you can take while you wait:

  • Monitor
    and document his progress:

    If you haven’t already taken this step, now is a great time to start. Keep a journal
    of your concerns, a typical day’s schedule, and any relevant information worth
    noting. Track milestones and progress as well as new ideas you may have
    implemented whether successful or not. Documenting is beneficial not only for
    you but for his doctors and therapists as well.
  • Find
    a support group:
    Finding other families
    with similar concerns can be a great comfort. Support groups offer additional
    resources, parents who can provide valuable insight and information as well as
    friendship. Reaching out to find support and answers can help alleviate stress as
    well as offer advice, tips, and strategies for you to try.
  • Play:
    Have you noticed your child struggling
    with a short attention span? Does he seem to experience sensory issues? Is communication
    difficult or spark frustration and outbursts? Engaging in play with your child
    offers you the opportunity to bond with him while working on a variety of
    skills. Play gives you the chance to observe your child in a natural, relaxed
    environment while you engage. Explore with him. Communicate with him both
    verbally and non-verbally while you encourage him to do the same. Turn playtime
    into a teaching opportunity time[KR5] .
  • Be
    Proactive:
    While you wait for
    your official evaluation, we recommend calling around to different early
    intervention service providers. The evaluation process can take a long time so
    the sooner you start researching services the better.

The
Role of Play in ABA
Therapy

Just
because it looks like play doesn’t mean that’s all there is to it! Trained
therapists use play therapy to introduce and practice new skills
with children with autism and various developmental delays. Play is a form of language
most children tend to understand at any level. This offers a fantastic
opportunity to model new skills and behaviors in a way that is natural and
relatable to your child. ABA
therapy and play provide a unique teaching environment that has been
very effective for children with autism. And once a session is over, you’ll
also be leaving with a new set of skills to enable you to continue the work at
home in his natural environment.

What
is ABA Therapy?

Applied
Behavioral Analysis, or ABA, is an effective and scientifically validated form
of therapy used successfully with children with autism. ABA
therapy
provides a clearer
understanding of how your child’s natural environments can affect his
behaviors. The use of ABA
therapy allows us to examine how behavior and learning take place more
closely. This form of therapy focuses on using positive rewards; a system of
reinforcing the recurrence of new and preferred behavior through meaningful
privileges or items. ABA
therapy’s goal is to replace undesirable behaviors that may cause your
child harm or interference with his ability to learn.

How
Does ABA Therapy
Work?

Positive
reinforcements used in your child’s ABA sessions are individually determined
for each child. They are used as a form of motivation in creating behavioral
change because they are meaningful to him. The reinforcer, or reward, is given
only after the new behavior has been completed, to replace an undesirable
behavior with a wanted action. ABA therapy relies on the participation of the child’s parents
and caregivers. Not only can parents and primary caregivers provide valuable
information to the therapists, but they can also implement strategies in
between each session and provide feedback. By continuing strategies learned
during your child’s ABA
therapy sessions and practicing positive reinforcement in his natural
environments, new behaviors are more likely to be long-term. Working closely
with your child’s therapist and the team will help reinforce these new
behaviors and increase the chances of change.

The
benefits of ABA therapy
span several critical areas of your child’s life and are vital in helping him
achieve his potential. These areas include:

  • Self-care skills
  • Social skills
  • Communication skills
  • Home environment
  • School environment

Our highly trained
staff is available to answer your questions and address your child’s wellness
needs. Our team is here to educate and support your family. Together, we can help
your child reach his full potential. Reach out to us today!


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