All About Early Intervention for Children with Disabilities

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Child plays on tablet.

The first three years of a child’s life are filled with lots of ups and downs. Diaper changes, giggles, sleepless nights, and first steps—it’s all so exciting! One of the biggest things that come with being a parent is the stress of just wanting to make sure your baby is okay.

It’s hard to tell if your child is behind developmentally or if you’re just over-stressing after reading one too many mom blogs. If you’re worried about your little one’s development, early intervention services can help you address those concerns and allow your child to thrive. It can be hard to figure out what your kiddo needs between occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, and ABA therapy. We’ve got it all covered! Getting your child help doesn’t need to be so anxiety-inducing.

 

What is Early Intervention?

Early intervention is the term for the support and service that little ones with developmental disabilities and delays can receive. It’s like special education, but for babies and younger children. It can significantly impact your child’s ability to learn new skills and take on challenges that they may face. It can also increase success when it comes time for them to enter school and the real world. Some parts of early intervention include speech and language therapy, ABA therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and other services depending on the needs of your child and family.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires early intervention to be available in every state and territory by law. Early intervention is sometimes referred to as part C since that’s the part of IDEA that addresses it. IDEA was also the reason that special education for school-aged kids came to light.

 

What Services Does Early Intervention Provide?

Early intervention’s main goal is to help babies and toddlers learn basic and new skills they normally develop by the time they’re turning three. The five major milestones for young children three and under are:

  • Cognitive: learning and thinking
  • Physical: crawling, walking, rolling
  • Self-help: eating, getting dressed
  • Emotional: playing, feeling happy
  • Communication: listening, understanding, talking

If you’re concerned about your child’s development in those areas, early intervention services could help them get on the right track. It can provide hearing devices, speech and language therapy, counseling for family, medical and nursing services, occupational therapy, and more. Family services assist family members with understanding their child’s special needs and how to enhance their development. Children eligible for services like ABA therapy, occupational therapy, and speech and language therapy can receive them from birth through their third birthday.

Child crawling.

 

Speech and Language Therapy

Since communication is such an essential part of life, speech and language therapy is a major part of early intervention. Along with ABA therapy and occupational therapy, it plays a significant role in the early years of a child’s life and development. When little ones can’t communicate their thoughts and feelings effectively, it can be frustrating for them. Not to mention, the worst feeling as a parent is knowing your child is upset but not knowing what’s wrong. Speech and language therapy allows them to work with therapists to address those issues. When you can tackle those issues at the source with speech and language therapy, you will start to see a positive difference in the child. Early intervention will help strengthen speech and language therapy results because the earlier you start, the better.

 

Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy is another helpful service that early intervention can provide. It uses assessment and intervention to maintain, develop, and recover important skills. Occupational therapy, in addition to speech and language therapy and ABA therapy, is one of the vast numbers of early intervention services. Using occupational therapy can improve your child’s motor, cognitive, communication, sensory processing, and play skills.

While it’s beneficial for kids with certain conditions, like autism or down syndrome, it can also help those who don’t have a precise diagnosis. The goal of occupational therapy is to enhance development, minimize potential developmental delay, and help families meet their children’s needs.

 

Early Intervention with ABA Therapy

Children with autism, as well as other developmental disorders, will reap major benefits from participating in early intervention ABA therapy. Applied Behavioral Analysis, or ABA therapy, is a collection of techniques that can help kids with autism overcome their challenges. It can be combined with speech and language therapy and occupational therapy for maximum results for your child. ABA therapy is backed by lots of research and is versatile, so you can accommodate the practice to fit your family’s needs.

Mindfulness is a big part of dealing with autism, and ABA therapy can help them become more mindful and at peace. This therapy practice is the most popular option offered in early childhood since it’s so effective. It is most beneficial when kids start it as early as possible; that’s why it’s so important to get an evaluation for early intervention!

 

How Do You Know If Your Child Is Eligible?

As parents, it’s totally normal to worry about your child’s development. So, how do you know if your concern is valid or just too much parent anxiety? There are steps you can take to figure out exactly what your child needs, whether it’s occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, ABA therapy, or a different type of service.

 

How Developmental Disabilities are Defined

The exact definition of a developmental delay can vary across states because each state defines the term for itself. The state’s definition of the term describes the evaluation and assessment procedures that will be used to measure childrens’ development in each of the five areas (cognitive, physical, self-help, emotional, and communication). It also assesses the level of disability that constitutes a developmental delay and the need for things like speech and language therapy in each of the five areas. Check out this site to find out what your state’s rules and regulations are.

 

How to Address Concerns About Your Child’s Development

If you’re concerned about your child’s development, you should ask their pediatrician about it first, but you can also get them evaluated at an early intervention center. The evaluation looks at all your child’s basic skill sets. Even though it’s recommended to talk to a doctor first, you don’t need their referral to receive help from early intervention services.

For some babies, parents and medical professionals know from the time they are born that early intervention services will be crucial in helping them develop. This is normally the case for babies diagnosed with specific conditions or illnesses at birth, born with low weight, or significantly premature. The parents of these babies might receive a referral to their local early intervention office before even leaving the hospital. If that sounds like your family’s situation, you most likely won’t need an evaluation for your child to receive services. Other kids might have a relatively normal entry into the world. Still, they might experience setbacks later, develop slower than other kids, or develop in ways that are different from other children their age, causing them to need speech and language therapy or other services.

Once you have gotten a referral from a doctor or think early intervention ABA therapy, occupational therapy, or speech and language therapy is the right fit for your family, you will be paired up with a service coordinator. They will explain everything that’s involved in your child’s assessment and evaluation process. The service coordinator will serve as your single point of contact with the early intervention system. Then, they will ask for your permission to proceed. Family involvement is such an important part of early intervention; you need to have a say in everything. Therefore, you must provide your written consent for any screenings to take place.

Grandmother reading to child.

What Happens During the Early Intervention Evaluation?

Once they have gotten your approval to proceed with the evaluation process, qualified people with different areas of expertise will evaluate your child. They may evaluate him or her altogether or individually. These people are experts on all things children: speech and language therapy and skills, physical abilities, hearing and vision, and more. With an advanced skill set, these professionals can decipher whether your child needs ABA therapy, occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, or a different approach. They will observe your child in their environment as well as talk to them and ask them to do things. They will also be talking to you during the evaluation.

With your family’s approval, the family members closely involved in the child’s life will also be assessed. This identifies the family’s:

  • concerns
  • priorities
  • resources

 

Delving into these things will help enhance your child’s development. As much as therapists and experts are willing to help, your family is who will be around your little one the most, so knowing how to help them is vital.

After the evaluation, your family will meet with the team involved in assessing your child. Together, you will review all of the data and results to see if you can get a clear diagnosis and figure out the next steps. Suppose your child meets the criteria under the IDEA and state policies for having a developmental delay, diagnosis of a mental or physical condition, or being at risk for having a substantial delay. In that case, they can start receiving ABA therapy, speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, or other early intervention services.

 

Creating an Early Intervention Plan

Now that the family and child have gone through an evaluation, it’s time to figure out how to take action. Is your child going to enter speech and language therapy or occupational therapy? The early intervention system must complete an evaluation, initial assessments of the child, and write the IFSP within forty-five days of getting your referral. It’s important that this process moves quickly since our kids can change in the blink of an eye!

 

What Is an IFSP?

You will sit down with the early intervention team to create the Individualized Family Service Plan or IFSP. The IFSP is a written document outlining the early intervention services, like occupational therapy, that your family and child will receive. Parents are a huge part of creating it, so don’t be afraid to voice your opinion! Each state has certain guidelines for the IFSP, and your service coordinator will explain those to you in-depth. The IFSP includes:

  • your child’s current cognitive, physical, self-help, emotional, and communication development levels and their needs
  • family information: resources, concerns, and priorities of close family members
  • outcomes expected from the early intervention
  • specific services the child will receive
  • when and where the treatment will take place
  • more info about raising a child with a disability
  • who will pay for the services
  • financial aid (if needed)

 

That might all seem like a lot, but your service coordinator and the rest of the early intervention team will be there to guide you along every step of the way. They’ll consider your suggestions and make sure you’re on board with each part of the plan. If you don’t give your clear consent in writing for a service, like speech and language therapy, your child won’t receive that specific service.

The IFSP is reviewed every six months to make sure it’s still meeting the needs of everyone involved. At least once a year, you will update the plan. Maybe ABA therapy was perfect for your child last year, but now, occupational therapy and speech and language therapy are exactly what they need. Kids grow and learn at such a fast pace; we just need to keep up!

 

Where Does Early Intervention Take Place?

It is best if your child receives services in their natural environment. Their natural environment could be at home, at a park, or somewhere in the community—wherever they will feel most comfortable. This will make the ABA therapy, occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, or whatever type of service your child is receiving, more beneficial to them. Anywhere can be a natural environment as long as your kiddo and family can play, learn, and live comfortably. It should incorporate the activities, toys, and people that make your child happy! If you will not receive your services in a natural environment, the IFSP must justify why not.

 

Is Early Intervention Going to Break the Bank?

Don’t worry, early intervention services are there to help you, not add more stress to your life! Under part C of IDEA, some services must be provided at no cost, like:

  • childcare services
  • evaluations and assessment
  • service coordination
  • creation and review of the IFSP

The entire evaluation process is completely free of charge. Depending on the state’s policies, certain things might not be free. You could be charged a “sliding-scale” fee, which means the fees are based on your income. However, there are publicly funded programs in each state that provide free or reduced costs for any child eligible.

If you have health insurance or Medicaid, they could help cover some of the services. The part C system might ask for your permission for access to your public or private insurance to pay for early intervention services. In most situations, the system won’t use your health care insurance for things like ABA therapy and occupational therapy without your written consent.

 

What Happens After Your Child Turns Three?

Before you know it, your little one will be reaching the big three. Wipe your tears, mom and dad. Once they turn three, your family’s service coordinator will meet with you to discuss moving your child from early intervention to special education under IDEA. It will be like picking up right where they left off. When the time comes to make those plans, the team will be there for support and guidance while you figure out what’s next. A member from the local school district can meet with you as well.

Even if your kiddo has already passed the three-year mark, the first step to getting them help is still an evaluation. They can still participate in early intervention ABA therapy, occupational therapy, or speech and language therapy to improve their skills. If professionals find any developmental delays, you can meet with your child’s preschool to develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for them.

Now that you know all the ins and outs of early intervention, occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, and ABA therapy, you’re on the right track to keeping your child thriving. Research your local system, and set a plan in motion and improve the lives of your child and family.

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