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The Importance of Early Intervention in Speech and/or Occupational Therapy for Children

Table of Contents

Introduction to Early Intervention

As infants become toddlers, their ability to learn new milestones and skills increases at a faster rate. Because of this critical period in their life, early intervention in speech and/or occupational therapy services for children is extremely important. The American Speech-Language Hearing Association, or ASHA, defines early intervention as “the process of providing services and supports to infants, toddlers, and their families when a child has, or is at risk for, a developmental delay, disability, or health condition that may affect typical development and learning”. Now what exactly does this mean? It means that introduction to skilled early intervention is beneficial in lessening the effects of a disability or delay by targeting and addressing those identified specific needs of young children. By introducing them to intervention at an early age, skilled therapists, along with the help of the child’s family members can assist in developmental areas such as cognitive development, physical development, communication development, adaptive behavior, and social/emotional development.

Understanding the Early Intervention Process

In order to begin the process of early intervention, a child must be either screened, or identify if the child needs further evaluation for specific developmental skills. If further evaluation is deemed necessary, then an evaluation is set up to determine their initial and continuing need for skilled therapy services. During an evaluation, the following information is gathered (IDEA, 2004): 1. Administering an evaluation instrument, 2. Taking the child’s developmental and medical history (including a caregiver/family interview), 3. Identifying the child’s level of functioning in each of the five developmental areas (cognitive, communication, physical, social or emotional, and adaptive), 4. Gathering information, such as questionnaires, from other caregivers, health care providers, and educators to get a holistic view of the child’s strengths and needs, and 5. Reviewing medical, educational, or other records. Following the evaluation, an assessment occurs, which is when formal and informal overall comprehensive procedures, such as standardized testing, is completed to determine a child’s strengths and weaknesses. This assessment allows therapists to establish eligibility for skilled speech and occupational services that will best benefit the child and help them meet their goals for developmental delays.

Implementing Early Intervention Services

Once it has been determined that a child will benefit from skilled speech and/or occupational services and is eligible, then it is important to begin intervention services. If we focus on starting treatment at an early age, then, as a team, we can assist in developing the child’s full potential and reduce further developmental delays. Specific to speech and language therapy, the focus would be aimed at encouraging the child’s interaction, communication, receptive attention, expressive language, and overall speech expression for better communication skills. Specific to occupational therapy, the focus would be on improving the child’s participation in social and everyday activities, which could also include dressing, feeding, emotional, and sensory regulation. Early interventions have a very positive and beneficial effect on the developmental skills of children and reduce significant delays that can be seen later on if not treated earlier; it exposes the child to developmental milestones they should be meeting by a certain age.

 

By: Arlene Carrillo M.S., CCC-SLP

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