What Is Early Intervention & How Can You Navigate It?

A joyful toddler with curly hair and a light green shirt smiles while holding a blue toy star. The child is seated next to a tray filled with colorful wooden blocks and shapes. The background is a clean, white room adorned with framed artwork, creating a bright and playful atmosphere.

Most people know that what happens to us early in life affects our long-term development. Experts agree that the first three to five years of life are crucial for long-term social, cognitive, emotional, and physical well-being. 

That’s why it’s so essential for parents, especially parents of preterm babies, to ensure their child gets the best start possible. Just because your child is in the NICU, experiencing developmental delays, or is born with a disability, doesn’t have to mean they’re destined to fall behind. 

The important thing is to get your baby the help they need when they need it. 

When you set your child up for success early on, they are much more likely to FLRRiSH as healthy toddlers, kids, and teenagers. 

One of the best ways to provide this support is through Early Intervention.

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What Is Early Intervention?

Early Intervention services promote optimal development and address potential challenges for preterm babies or children experiencing developmental delays. 

These services work for two reasons: they are preventative in that they can stop problems from occurring in the future, and they tackle pre existing problems head-on before they get worse. 

Additionally, Early Intervention services provide incredible relief for parents! Therapists who work with kids can act as sounding boards for the parents’ questions and fears. They provide parents with guidelines about what to look for when playing with their children, and help them understand that it’s okay to ask for more help or change providers if they’re unsatisfied with the treatment. 

Via Early Intervention, parents gain a deeper understanding of their child’s needs, feel more supported and at peace, and get the tools they need to help their baby prepare for life. With these incredible benefits, it’s important to fully understand how to navigate Early Intervention. 

Let’s get into it!

Why trust us?

Jodi Klaristenfeld is the founder of FLRRiSH. She is a mom to an adorable little girl who was born at 28 weeks due to a rare and life-threatening form of preeclampsia and HELLP Syndrome.

After her daughter’s early birth, Jodi quickly discovered preemie parents aren’t always given the support they need. She then created FLRRiSH, a platform offering NICU parent coaching, education, empowerment, support and resources to help families navigate this beautiful and challenging journey.

What Does Early Intervention Do?

According to the CDC, Early Intervention is a publicly funded program in every state and territory. It is typically offered for free or at a reduced cost to children who qualify. 

These programs can look different depending on the needs and age of your child. For some, it might be home visits to support parents. For others, it might be services that take place in daycare or at school. 

Early Intervention supports four important aspects of children’s development: physical, cognitive, behavioral, and social and emotional. 

Incremental changes made by Early Intervention can lead to massive improvements in children’s health, mental health, academic success, and behavior. 

Early Intervention Services

Early Intervention offers a range of services, including:

  • physical therapy, 
  • occupational therapy, 
  • speech therapy, 
  • applied behavioral analysis (ABA), 
  • and sensory therapy. 

The type of and the frequency of treatment a child needs will vary on a case-by-case basis.

In case you’re not familiar with how each therapy works, let’s quickly break it down. Keep in mind that some of these services may overlap.

  • Physical therapy: PT focuses on developing gross motor skills and movement. For babies, this might mean learning to balance or gain muscle control.
  • Occupational therapy: OT combines the use of cognitive processing, sensory processing, and/or motor skills to perform everyday, basic tasks. Think eating, playing with toys, gaining head control, and so on.
  • Speech therapy: ST focuses on the development of language, or in younger patients, feeding and swallowing.
  • Applied behavioral analysis: ABA teaches children how to do a developmentally appropriate task, such as play with others, prepare for school, or learn how to do things by themselves. ABA’s focus is to break a new skill down into very small steps.
  • Sensory Therapy: this helps children with sensory-processing problems (including possibly those with ASDs) cope with the difficulties they have processing sensory input.

Looking for reputable therapists near you? I have resource lists broken down by state and county. Access yours here

What Can Early Intervention Help My Child With?

Early Intervention can improve a number of conditions associated with the development of those four main dimensions we discussed earlier (physical, cognitive, behavioral, and social/emotional). 

Here’s a breakdown of how Early Intervention can support your child:

  1. Neurodevelopmental support: Early Intervention programs focus on promoting healthy brain development. This includes interventions to support cognitive, motor, and sensory development, helping premature babies reach developmental milestones.
  2. Speech and Language Development: Premature babies may face challenges in speech and language development. Early intervention can provide specialized therapies and support to enhance communication skills, reducing the risk of long-term speech issues.
  3. Motor Skills Enhancement: Preterm infants may experience delays in motor skills development. Early intervention programs include physical therapy and activities to improve coordination, strength, and overall motor skills.
  4. Social and Emotional Well-being: Premature infants might be more sensitive to social and emotional challenges. Early interventions often involve strategies to support the emotional well-being of both the baby and their parents, fostering secure attachment and positive social interactions.
  5. Nutritional Support: Preterm babies may have specific nutritional needs. Early intervention programs may include guidance on appropriate feeding strategies, nutritional supplements, and monitoring to ensure adequate growth and development.
  6. Vision and Hearing Support: Premature infants are at a higher risk of vision and hearing impairments. Early intervention can involve regular screenings, early detection, and interventions to address potential issues, promoting optimal sensory development.
  7. Parental Education and Support: Early intervention programs often provide education and support for parents, helping them understand their baby’s unique needs and providing strategies for caregiving. This support can empower parents to actively participate in their child’s development.
  8. Prevention of Long-Term Disabilities: Timely interventions can help identify and address potential developmental delays, reducing the risk of long-term disabilities. Early detection and intervention may mitigate the impact of prematurity on a child’s overall health and well-being.
  9. Individualized Care Plans: Early intervention is tailored to the specific needs of each premature baby. Individualized care plans ensure that interventions address the unique challenges and strengths of each child, maximizing the effectiveness of the support provided.
  10. Improved School Readiness: By addressing developmental delays early on, premature babies are better prepared for school. Early intervention can contribute to improved cognitive abilities, social skills, and overall readiness for educational experiences. 

How Does Early Intervention Work?

The first step to accessing your state’s Early Intervention program is talking to your child’s doctor. 

If your child is having trouble reaching traditional milestones, experiencing cognitive delays, or other developmental issues, you can (and should!) bring up these concerns and ask for a referral. 

However, if your physician is not on board or does not think Early Intervention is necessary (and your child is three or younger), you can still initiate the process on your own. All you need to do is find your state’s Early Intervention contact information and tell them you want to apply for the program.

From there, a case manager or service coordinator will conduct an intake assessment. You’ll get an opportunity to discuss your child’s medical history, your concerns, and any other relevant background information. If it’s decided that your child needs to be evaluated, the service coordinator will connect you with the appropriate therapist, who will conduct the evaluation in your home or at your child’s daycare.

I hope this information was helpful for you! If you have any questions or need additional help navigating Early Intervention for your baby, feel free to contact me here. I also offer one-on-one coaching and resource lists for new preemie parents.

What is Early Intervention?

If your child was a preemie or has a disability at a young age (ages 0-3), they may need Early Intervention services–provided for free or low cost through your state–to help with reaching cognitive and developmental milestones.

What is the main goal of Early Intervention?

The goal of Early Intervention is to identify any possible areas of delay your baby or toddler might have and to provide therapy and other services to help improve these areas.

Why is Early Intervention Important?

Your child’s cognitive and developmental growth happens rapidly in infancy and toddlerhood. The earlier you can get your child services to improve any delay, the less likely it is for that delay become more serious as your child progresses. Early Intervention is so important!

Where do I find Early Intervention services?

Your pediatrician will likely be the first to inform you of any delay and suggest that your child might need Early Intervention services. If, however, you suspect a delay but your pediatrician won’t refer you, you can always contact your state’s Early Intervention program and apply on your own. From there, a case manager or service coordinator will conduct an intake assessment.

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