The desperation a parent feels when they first suspect their child may have a developmental delay or disability is like no other. It can be confusing and scary for parents who might not know where to turn for help or what type of assistance is available.
Early intervention providers can make a monumental difference in the lives of children and their families.
Providing the right support to families is critical to giving them the tools they need to make informed decisions about their child’s development.
In this guide, we will explore key aspects of early intervention services, as well as provide ways for early intervention providers to access continued professional development and support.
Table of Contents
- What Is Early Intervention?
- How To Get Early Intervention Services
- Who Can Refer Children for Early Intervention Programs?
- Where Are Early Intervention Services Offered?
- Who Pays for Early Intervention Services?
- TORSH Talent: Professional Development for Early Intervention Providers
What Is Early Intervention?
“Early intervention” can be defined as a means of providing support and services for children who have been identified as at risk of falling behind due to developmental delays.
An attentive teacher, pediatrician, or parent might be the first to notice that a child is exhibiting behaviors that fall outside the norm, or aren’t keeping pace with expected developmental milestones. For example, a child of 15 months who hasn’t yet spoken words such as “mama” or “dada” might give their caregivers cause for concern, and would likely be referred for further evaluation.
Note that the term “early intervention” can also refer to the need for timely support in a school setting; for example, a child who is falling behind academically due to a learning disability, problems at home, behavioral problems, or other factors might be referred for additional assessment to determine what support services they need “sooner rather than later” to quickly address the issue.
For the purposes of this article, we will be exploring the definition of “early intervention” that is associated with Part C services provided to children from birth through age 3 or 4 — depending on the state.
So, what is an early intervention program or service?
Early intervention is a program and/or service offered by the state to children with disabilities and their families.
Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), states must provide early intervention services for children who are at risk of having developmental delays or who have been diagnosed with a disability.
Early Intervention services may be provided directly by a local public agency or private provider (such as a child care center) that has been approved by the state to deliver early intervention services.
What Is the Purpose of Early Intervention?
The purpose of early intervention is to:
- Identify children from birth to three years old who may have developmental delays
- Provide intervention services to help these children reach their full potential
What Age Is Best for Early Intervention?
The earlier a child can be identified as having a need for early intervention, the better. “The connections in a baby’s brain are most adaptable in the first three years of life,” writes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “These connections, also called neural circuits, are the foundation for learning, behavior, and health. Over time, these connections become harder to change.”
By acting as early as possible, ideally, before the child even enters school, we are more likely to ensure better academic outcomes and a better quality of life for the child. However, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Each child’s case will be unique and dependent on a number of factors, which might include their physical health (e.g., a child may be battling a serious illness) or their living status (e.g., a child may be homeless or in foster care).
Some factors that may influence when early intervention services are the best for a child include:
- The child’s age at the time of referral
- The age of the child when they began showing signs of delays
- The severity of the child’s delays
- The child’s living situation, health status, or ability to receive consistent care
What Are Early Intervention Examples?
Some examples of developmental delays that can be addressed with early intervention services include delays in:
- Social-emotional development
- Physical development
- Adaptive skills
Therapists and practitioners typically provide services to children with developmental delays within the classic early intervention model, in which services are provided within children’s natural environments (e.g. the child’s home, a family member’s home, or their childcare facility).
Some examples of services provided within the classic early intervention model may include:
- Speech therapy
- Physical therapy
- Social work
- Assistive technology
- Occupational therapy
- Hearing (audiology)
- Speech and language therapy
However, classic early intervention services may also call for services outside of the child’s natural environment (e.g. pediatric rehabilitation clinics, private practices, or neonatal intensive care units).
How To Get Early Intervention Services
To qualify for early intervention services, you have to first determine the child’s eligibility by contacting a:
- Local or state early intervention program
- Private early intervention provider in the area
In either case, it is important to be specific about the concerns you have about the child.
Document your observations. Is this an ongoing problem, or something new? When did you first notice the issue? Do certain situations exacerbate difficulties that the child is experiencing?
Contacting early intervention is what triggers the process of a caseworker being assigned to a child to determine eligibility.
To be eligible for early intervention services, a child must:
- Be under three years of age
- Demonstrate some form of developmental delay (physical, emotional, social, cognitive, or communication)
Eligibility criteria may vary by state.
Because early intervention is a collaborative effort, parents, caretakers, and medical professionals may be a part of the process of determining eligibility. They may also be a part of administering developmental assessments.
A developmental assessment for early intervention is a comprehensive evaluation that takes into account all five areas of development:
This comprehensive evaluation can help identify any delays the child may be experiencing in any of these areas.
A child will be evaluated by professionals to determine whether they suffer from a developmental disorder or delay that is likely to interfere with their ability to reach key developmental milestones or to succeed academically once they enter school.
It’s important to note that every state has its own assessments and eligibility requirements.
For example, one state may require a child to have a 25% deficit in two areas, while another state may require a child to have a 50% deficit in one area to be eligible for services.
Developmental assessments may also include:
- Parent interviews
- Physical exams
- Developmental tests
- Observation of the child in their natural environment
The assessment will provide a snapshot of the child’s current state of development. It is important to remember that developmental assessments are not an official medical diagnosis, and should not be used as such.
Once eligibility is determined, caseworkers will refer the parents to an early intervention service provider in their area.
Early intervention professionals often need some outside guidance and mentoring to help them continue to grow their skills, gain fresh insights, and learn new techniques to best serve the children with whom they work. Are you an early intervention provider who would benefit from real-time support and feedback from an educational coach?
With TORSH Talent, your organization can make it simple for you to engage with your coach. You can record yourself providing early intervention services to children and their families and share that video securely with your coach who can then provide time stamped feedback.
One of TORSH Talent’s features, the Coaching Corner, integrates tools for:
- Real-time feedback
- Goal setting
- Assessment data
These useful and accessible features make it easy for you to get the support you need as a professional early intervention provider.
Request a demo of our software at TORSH Talent.
When working with a child who may be eligible for early intervention services, it is important to understand what can automatically qualify them for services.
Some automatic qualifications may include:
- Down Syndrome
- Hearing loss
These diagnosed conditions can be documented and sourced in a variety of ways, such as birth certificates or medical records.
To find out more about automatic qualifications, be sure to visit your state’s early intervention website. Search for “early intervention [your state],” “[your state] department of health,” or “office of early childhood [your state].”
Establish an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP)
The best way to provide early intervention is through an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP).
An IFSP is a legal document that identifies the early intervention services that are needed for each child and their family and provides guidance on how to receive those services.
There are several steps to crafting an effective IFSP, which include:
- Assessing the child’s needs: This may include observation of the child by an early intervention therapist, as well as a review of their medical records and other documents related to their condition.
- Identifying services provided by others: This includes services such as speech therapy or occupational therapy.
- Establishing a cooperative agreement with institutions and service providers: This will ensure that everyone is on board with the early intervention plan and understands its goals.
- Revising the IFSP as necessary: If needed, revisions can be made to the IFSP as new information becomes available.
What Is Included in an IFSP?
An IFSP includes a set of goals and objectives designed to help young children with developmental disabilities reach their full potential.
The goals and objectives are tailored to the child’s specific needs, and may include:
- Increasing independence
- Accessing community resources
- Improving socialization skills
An IFSP should also include a timeline for completing each goal, with specific and measurable benchmarks along the way.
It is important that an IFSP be consistent with the child’s goals, abilities, and needs as determined by their team of professionals (e.g., case manager, therapist, etc.).
If any needs change over time, they should be updated in the IFSP.
IFSPs can be created in coordination with services provided in a variety of settings (e.g., home care services, community support programs), depending on the needs of the child.
It is vital that the child’s primary guardians be involved in the development of IFSPs.
Who Can Refer Children for Early Intervention Programs?
Parents, family members, caretakers, and medical professionals are all able to refer children for an assessment for early intervention services.
In most states, referrals can be made to either the early intervention program or the state agency that provides the services.
The most common referrals are when:
- A parent suspects their child might have a developmental delay or disability
- A child’s pediatrician makes a recommendation to contact early intervention
Referrals may be made by phone, fax, email, or mail.
Also, anyone who has a concern can seek out resources from early intervention programs in their state.
Where Are Early Intervention Services Offered?
There are two main types of early intervention services:
In the past, most families received home-based interventions, which take place in their own homes. However, this is no longer always the case.
Today, some states have early intervention resource centers that provide group settings for children to receive services at:
- Daycare centers
Many families choose to enroll their children in these center-based programs for a variety of reasons, including the convenience of having multiple interventions available at a single location.
Center-based services typically provide more structured activities and support than home-based services.
On the other hand, home-based services are beneficial for families who don’t have access to center-based services or who want more flexibility in their programming.
Nowadays, a growing number of families receive both types of services.
Some states offer both types of services; other states offer only one or the other.
Who Pays for Early Intervention Services?
Early intervention services are paid for by a variety of sources and can vary depending on:
- Type of service
- Population served
- Level of service provided
The state and federal governments pay for the majority of early intervention services, with private insurance, Medicaid, and other federal education funds sometimes covering them as well.
Some states have programs that allow families to pay reduced rates or take advantage of sliding scales. These low-income families are granted access to the same high-quality services as those who can afford private insurance coverage or higher co-payments.
Under IDEA, assessments and evaluations for early intervention services are generally free for parents, though some states offer small co-payments.
TORSH Talent: Professional Development for Early Intervention Providers
TORSH Talent is an all-in-one, configurable, professional learning and coaching platform that can help early care, early education, and early intervention providers improve their practices.
Providers who have the TORSH Talent platform can expect continued growth and increased effectiveness with our software that helps you to:
- Record videos of yourself providing services, which allows others to observe and give you feedback.
- Connect with other early intervention providers as a peer-to-peer coach for feedback and support.
- Collaborate with colleagues by sharing ideas on video, discussion boards, or through curated library content.
- Reflect on your professional practices and become more strategic with goal setting, action steps, and tracking progress.
- Measure the impact of coaching and professional development outcomes with real-time, detailed reports.
TORSH Talent is a valuable support system for early intervention providers who are looking to improve their practices.
Strengthen your practice and make a difference for your clients. Try TORSH Talent today.