How “Early” Is Early Intervention?

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The past 30 years have seen tremendous growth and expansion in the understanding of learning styles and learning disabilities as well as the availability of services to address them.  Now children, even those under three years old, can benefit from early intervention before they enter pre-school.

Parents are often the first to notice “that something doesn’t seem right.”  Young children learn and develop differently.  There are many books that can help you to identify what are the appropriate developmental patterns or for a short list of expectations from birth to age three visit health.westchestergov.com

If you see indications of a potential problem, pay attention.  Identify what is concerning you and, without panicking, closely watch those areas.  Keep a log with examples of behaviors that have caught your attention and questions you have.  Observe the same behaviors in your child’s peers…does your child’s skill set seem to be the norm or the exception?   Does it happen consistently or only in certain circumstances?  Talk to your pediatrician about your observations and be accurate. Don’t be afraid to talk about what you see.  The more accurate your information, the more reliable the assessment will be.

It is also important that you  be pro-active and engage the support of the agency in your community.   These agencies provide the initial assessment for your child and identify areas in need of support.  Early intervention can only begin after a child is identified as having developmental delays.

Because there is a wide range of normal developmental milestones, you may not receive a definitive answer.  For example, while some children are walking by the time they are nine months old, others begin walking at 14 months.  This can make the identification of such delays difficult to assess.  Be patient, but be alert.

If you live in Westchester, you can call the Early Intervention Program of the Westchester County Department of Health at 914-813-5094.  You will be put in touch with an initial service coordinator who will explain the process to you.  With the help of the coordinator, you will choose assessments for your child by scheduling evaluations (usually in your home). When the evaluations have been completed, you will be provided a written report and the results will be discussed with you.  If you live in a county other than Westchester, check with your county to find out the contact information for early intervention services.

If it is determined that your child has developmental delays in any area, don’t be  discouraged.  There are many services available to help your child.  If your child is eligible for services, you will meet with the team of providers to plan the appropriate intervention and where it will be given – in a community center (day care, nursery school, etc.) or at home.  Early diagnosis and treatment of your child can change his/her life!  Keep in mind that it usually works best if all or most of the evaluators (providers) come from one institution, making it easier to coordinate their efforts.

An evaluation may conclude that your child does not have a delay.  Or perhaps your child does have a delay but does not qualify for county services.  In these instances, you may want to speak with an educational consultant to determine if private services are warranted.  There are many services available privately–speech, language, occupational therapy, physical therapy, social skills support, play therapy and much more–that can help your child develop and grow, minimizing or eliminating the gap between your child and his peers.  Though you will likely pay out-of-pocket, your child will benefit from EI in the long run.

Parents, trust your instincts!  No one knows your child better than you do.  If something just doesn’t seem right, or if you are noticing behavior that is not age appropriate, don’t ignore it!  I cannot stress this enough.  There is a great deal of support available, but the first step is identifying the problem.  As difficult and frightening as it may be to acknowledge that your child may have a developmental and/or learning issue, this is a critical first step toward helping your child overcome it.  Identifying the problem and providing early support can minimize and even prevent learning problems later.   Early intervention is a gift to your child that will benefit him for the rest of his life.  Now that’s a gift worth giving!

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