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:
- 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.
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:
- Motor skills
- Cognitive skills
- 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:
- 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.
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].
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!