By three years old, children are typically expected to have reached several milestones in their speech, play, movement, learning, and social-emotional development. For example, it is common that most children can say their first name, walk up stairs unassisted, and feed themselves properly with a spoon. However, some children experience challenges reaching milestones and require extra support through early childhood intervention.
Early childhood intervention lays a firm foundation for children so they can reach their full potential during these crucial early development years. Read on to understand early childhood intervention, what services are available to children, and how to determine eligibility.
What is early childhood intervention?
Early childhood intervention describes a system of services and specialized support for young children with developmental delays and disabilities in some or all of the four main developmental domains—cognitive, physical, social-emotional, and language.
Early childhood intervention helps young children develop the skills they need to succeed in school and life, such as:
- Physical skills like throwing and kicking a small ball, running, and jumping
- Communication skills like saying their first name when asked, using three-word long sentences, and asking “who,” “what,” “where,” or “why” questions
- Cognitive skills like turning book pages one at a time, copying a circle with a crayon or pencil, and recognizing some numbers
- Self-help skills like self-feeding with a spoon, washing hands, and getting dressed
- Social-emotional skills like naming two or more friends, showing concern for a crying friend, and joining other children in play
If a child is eligible for early intervention services, the special education law or Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in the U.S. mandates that, upon assessment, an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) be laid out for eligible children from birth to three years old. These plans outline information about the child’s present development level, family information such as concerns, priorities, and resources, measurable expected outcomes, and the specific early intervention services necessary to meet the child’s and family’s unique needs. Children ages three years and older require an Individualized Education Program (IEP), which must consider a child’s current academic achievement and functional performance levels. It must also consider the impact of the disability on the child’s participation and progress in the education curriculum. IEP goals are an essential part of the program and must align with grade-level content standards.
Benefits of early childhood intervention
When children with developmental delays don’t get the help they need early on, learning becomes difficult, and the developmental delays worsen. Here’s why early childhood intervention is so important:
Promotes literacy and academic success
Early intervention provides children with the materials, tools, and support they need to improve their language and literacy skills. Early language skills help children learn how to read and write, improving their academic and social outcomes in school and beyond.
Provides families with information and support
Early intervention support doesn’t start and stop at school. As the primary caregivers, the child’s family plays an essential role in supporting their child’s development. Through intervention, parents can better understand their child’s needs and receive the necessary resources and information to confidently help their child.
Helps improve behavior
Children with developmental delays may find it hard to express their wants and needs, which can cause them to exhibit challenging behavior like aggression, including biting and hitting, and temper tantrums. Early intervention provides personalized solutions to help children communicate better, subsequently improving their behavior.
Helps children build relationships
Children with language and communication delays often find making friends and interacting with their peers difficult. Early intervention helps them develop the appropriate language skills to communicate, express feelings, solve problems, and negotiate conflicts.
Makes learning fun through play
Play is essential to early intervention because it’s the primary way children learn and explore their surroundings. Activities like pretend play, sensory play, and social play are engaging and enjoyable and help children develop important skills.
Who is eligible for early intervention services?
While early intervention is recommended before a child turns three years old, it’s still essential throughout the preschool years. Children with disabilities and developmental delays typically fall behind on the milestones for their age and may face challenges like learning difficulties. They typically need extra time and attention to grasp new concepts or skills, have difficulty following instructions with multiple steps, and experience challenges when trying to manage their emotions and behavior.
However, the presence of disabilities doesn’t guarantee eligibility for early intervention services. Ultimately, eligibility must be determined by an evaluation performed by a team of professionals from the early intervention program in your state. Teachers concerned about developmental delays in a child must share their findings with an administrator or school counselor, who will seek consent from the child’s family for an evaluation.
The following are some signs that may indicate developmental delays in children:
- Difficulty communicating thoughts or understanding what you say
- No eye contact
- Difficulty naming familiar objects
- Mixing up sounds in polysyllabic words (saying “waterlemon” instead of “watermelon”)
- Difficulty remembering simple instructions and multistep directions
- Delayed motor development like clumsiness, difficulty throwing and catching a small ball, or difficulty using scissors or grasping a crayon
- Difficulty reciting the alphabet or numbers in the correct order
- Weak muscle tone like floppy arms or legs
- Speech that is difficult to understand compared to their peers
- Difficulty connecting number symbols to number words (e.g. 5 and five)
- Vision or hearing problems
- Hardly socializes (plays or converses) with peers
- Behavioral issues like frequent temper tantrums, defiance, and getting angry or irritated easily
- Poor concentration and attention span
Young children vary in their development. While some may show signs of delay, they can easily catch up to their peers with supportive practices like using clear language, providing written and picture form directions, and providing real-time feedback for improvement. However, some children won’t respond to these practices, and the teacher must note and pinpoint specific areas where a child is struggling so they can get specialized and professional help.
You can easily record and track each child’s activity and monitor their progress with brightwheel's daily activity report feature. Through this tool, families can be part of their child’s day by accessing their milestones, photos, and videos in real-time. And staff members can control what families see by enabling staff-only (internal) posts for assessment, observations, and private communication.
Early childhood intervention services
Early childhood intervention services are typically provided by professionals, including psychologists, speech and language therapists, social workers, physical and occupational pathologists, dietitians, and registered nurses. Types of intervention services include:
- Speech and language services: Used to treat speech disorders and delays to improve a child's communication and language skills.
- Occupational therapy: Helps children with cognitive, physical, or sensory disabilities perform everyday tasks like dressing up, playing with toys, and self-feeding.
- Audiology/hearing services: Diagnose and treat children with hearing disorders.
- Assistive technology services: Devices, items, or adaptations that help a child with a disability to fully participate in their community. For example, spacers to help children look at a book easily or audiobooks for children who struggle with reading.
- Physical therapy: Gentle exercises and other physical treatments to help children with physical limitations improve their strength, range of motion, and flexibility.
- Nutrition services: Ensure that children with disabilities have access to nutritious meals.
- Family counseling and training: Helps the family understand the child’s disorder and trains them on strategies for communication, skill building, and managing behavior.
- Psychological services: Assess a child’s condition using tests, interviews, and behavior observation. They also help them manage their symptoms with therapy or counseling so they can function well in their community.
- Nursing services: Partner with families to provide home-based care to children with developmental disabilities like epilepsy, Down syndrome, and cerebral palsy.
- Medical services: Provide specialized medical care for child-specific conditions, for example, cardiology, ENT, hematology, and neurology.
These services must be tailored to suit the unique needs of the child and their family.
Help children reach their full potential
Early childhood intervention can significantly impact a child’s learning and skill development. Children who get early intervention support have a good chance of catching up to their age group's developmental milestones and performing well in school and life. Educators play a huge role in ensuring that these children get the help they need as soon as possible by identifying them early on. With the proper support, teachers and families can help children reach their full potential.
Brightwheel is the complete solution for early education providers, enabling you to streamline your center’s operations and build a stand-out reputation. Brightwheel connects the most critical aspects of running your center—including sign in and out, parent communications, tuition billing, and licensing and compliance—in one easy-to-use tool, along with providing best-in-class customer support and coaching. Brightwheel is trusted by thousands of early education centers and millions of parents. Learn more at mybrightwheel.com.