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What is Early Intervention, and Why is it so Important?

Updated: Oct 25, 2022

Each state has a federally funded Early Intervention Program that provides free or discounted services to children under three years old, including physical, occupational, and speech therapies and other services based on the family’s needs.

Early intervention (i.e., starting services as early as possible) has been shown to be highly beneficial for children with developmental delays. []

From ages 0-3, the brain is quickly creating new neural pathways and many of these pathways are the foundation for either strong or weak neural connections later in life. [] "Early childhood intervention programs have been shown to yield benefits in academic achievement, behavior, educational progression and attainment, reduction in delinquency and criminality, and improved labor market success, among other domains." []

Many parents refuse to acknowledge that their child is delayed or struggling with things that neurotypical children seem to pick up on their own. The shame, guilt, or fear of acknowledging that your child may need intervention hinders many parents from getting the services that will be most beneficial to their children and denying children early intervention services could be detrimental to the child’s development in the long term.

It never hurts to get an evaluation. You may even be told your child’s delays are still within the normal range of development and no services are needed.

We started to see delays with our daughter sitting independently and babbling when she was 6-9 months old, but our pediatrician told us to wait to see if she developed these skills by 12 months. We started early intervention with California’s Regional Center when our daughter was 14 months old. I wish we had started even earlier, when we first noticed her delays at nine months. It can take several months to get an evaluation, then several more months to schedule the sessions, so getting an early start is helpful.

We are now with Nevada’s early intervention program, called Nevada Early Intervention Services (NEIS). Transferring services can take several months, so if possible, start that process at least two months before you move to a new state to avoid a delay in services.

Our daughter has developed consistently in gross motor, fine motor, speech, and comprehensive skills with early intervention. She just took her first independent steps at 2.5 years old. While her speech has been the most delayed, we are told speech generally comes after walking (each part of development is a building block for the next). She is babbling more and more and knows almost 10 baby signs and communicates more with us each day. We know that without early intervention services, she would still be crawling, dragging her belly on the floor, unable to communicate her basic needs to us, and she would be even farther behind her peers. Now, she makes consistent progress at her own pace, and we know we’re doing what’s best for her to enrich her life by helping her learn to become independent as much as we are able to.

To find your state’s early intervention program, click here. Call your state’s program and let them know you would like your child to be evaluated for early intervention services because of developmental delays. For a list of developmental milestones for each age, visit: CDC’s Developmental Milestones | CDC. Some states require a pediatrician referral, so talk with your pediatrician. They can also let you know whether they think your child is delayed and whether additional referrals, like an audiologist, optometrist, or neurologist are needed.

We supplemented early intervention services with “community clinic” services which are private therapy services that are covered by our insurance. It has been super helpful to have both, particularly during the pandemic because community therapists were still seeing children in-person when early intervention services went fully remote. We found in-person services to be crucial for our child’s continued development.

There are many options for therapy services: at-home, in-school, virtual or clinic-based -- and you can find a mix that works best for your child through early intervention and/or community clinics. If you live in a rural area, you may be able to find virtual therapy services at a clinic that is outside of your city but within your state.

After your child turns three, their Early Intervention Program will assist with the transition to public school. We are currently exploring this process, private school enrollment, and home school options and will post more about this transition next spring.

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