What is Early Intervention?
We know that children develop at their own rate. You might have some who walks early and talks a little bit late, or vice versa. The milestone guidelines are useful to help us notice when our child’s development might be delayed, and whether we should be concerned about it.
Early Intervention is… well, providing intervention as early as possible when there is known or suspected developmental delays / differences in your child.
Early Intervention typically covers children from age 0 to 3 or 5 years, and is promoted strongly as best practise especially for speech and language intervention. You can access early intervention if:
- Your child has a genetic chromosomal syndrome or congenital disorder that puts them at risk of developmental delays – like Down Syndrome or Cerebral Palsy
- You suspect, or your child is diagnosed with, developmental disorders like Global Developmental Delay, or autism, or hearing difficulties
- You are concerned about: your child’s late talking, your child’s interaction with others; how difficult it is for you or people outside the family to understand what they are saying.
No age is too early to seek support!
In fact, the earlier intervention begins, the better the ‘outcomes’ are likely to be.
Why is Early Intervention Important?
The first 3 years of life is when the most intensive speech and language development occurs in children. This is the ‘optimal window’ for communication development – the age your child’s brain is most ‘sponge like’ for developing speech and language. From a young age an early intervention team can help children develop their:
- Cognitive skills like attention, problem-solving
- Social-emotional skills like playing, interacting
- Communication skills like talking, understanding
- Self-help skills like eating, dressing
- Sensory skills like seeing, hearing
- Physical skills like walking, climbing
Additional possible benefits of early intervention include:
- Providing families and educators with support – resources, information, and strategies from the get-go
- Reducing frustration and consequent behaviours such as tantrums and lashing out through using strategies to support your child’s understanding, and/’or providing them a way to express their wants and needs from an early age
- Preparing functional skills for school to support engagement and success later life
While therapy after 5 years of age is certainly still very helpful, research suggests that it is within that early intervention time frame that children make the most progress. After the ‘window’ of 0 to 5 years of age, a child’s brain structure matures; this makes further significant changes in their development slow down and more difficult to achieve.
What Might Early Intervention Look Like?
Every child, and family, is different. So every intervention should be individualized to suit the child and family’s need.
In saying that, an essential part of early intervention in speech therapy involves supporting and guiding parents and early childhood educators to be the child’s ‘therapist’ themselves. You become the most effective communication partner to your child, and learn how to identify opportunities in your daily life to support and extend your child’s communication development.
Depending on your child’s needs, you may learn:
- Strategies and activities to support your child’s attention, listening, and play / interaction
- Language strategies to support your child’s vocabulary and sentence production, and understanding
- Cueing and feedback strategies to help your child’s sound development
- Alternative communication methods specific to your child – such as Makaton signing and symbol systems like coreboards – to help your child communicate functionally (and so reduce frustration) while you are reinforcing verbal language.
This means that your child is getting ‘therapy’ everyday – in your interactions, across contexts and during play! This is another component of early intervention – teaching through play and naturalistic routines; the more fun your child is having, the more they will want to learn.
If your child has needs intervention above and beyond speech and language, you might get an early intervention team through the public system which could consist of:
- Speech and language therapist
- Occupational therapist
- Early Intervention Teacher
- Advisors on Deaf Children
- BLENNZ (Blind and Low Vision Education Network NZ) Resource Teachers