As children grow and develop, not every child meets milestones at the typical pace. For children who experience developmental delays, early intervention services can be highly effective. If you are not familiar with the term “early intervention,” this involves a range of different services to address developmental delays in children from birth to three years of age.
Early intervention services can include, but are not limited to:
- Speech therapy
- Occupational therapy
- Feeding therapy
- Developmental therapy
- Physical therapy
If a child is receiving early intervention services, the goal is that they will build the skills required to meet developmental milestones.
Below are descriptions of some of the services that might be recommended following an evaluation through early intervention.
Early intervention speech therapy
A child will receive early intervention speech therapy if they experience delays in speech or language. These services are provided by a pediatric speech-language pathologist who helps the child to develop expressive language, receptive language, and other critical skills needed to be an effective communicator. Some of the other concerns a speech-language pathologist can address include apraxia, articulation, fluency, oral-motor skills, lengthening sentences, vocabulary development, and more. These early intervention services can be provided in various settings, including the client’s home, a clinic, or a hospital.
Early intervention occupational therapy
A pediatric occupational therapist will work with children to develop pivotal skills required for daily tasks and self-care, such as motor skills and sensory integration. A pediatric occupational therapist can help a child develop gross motor skills, which involve large muscle groups to perform actions, such as walking. A child may also require support with fine motor skills, which involve small muscle groups to perform actions, such as reaching for objects. Occupational therapy can also help children to develop their sensory processing if they are hyposensitive (i.e., reduced sensitivity) or hypersensitive (i.e., heightened sensitivity) to sensory information. Sensory information might include bright lights, loud sounds, textures of clothing, consistency of foods, or other input in the child’s environment.
Early intervention feeding therapy
Speech-language pathologists can also help young children in early intervention who have challenges with feeding or swallowing. These problems may occur as a result of oral motor, sensory, behavioral, or environmental factors. Many people do not realize that speech-language pathologists also work with children on feeding and swallowing. Feeding therapists will work with children to improve their feeding habits, including addressing sensory issues surrounding textures, flavors, or other factors. If a child is a “problem feeder” who eats fewer than 20 different foods or is at risk for proper growth and development, a feeding therapist will work to introduce different foods into the child’s diet. Occupational therapists may also work with children to address sensory components of feeding concerns.
Early intervention developmental therapy
Developmental therapy examines the development of the child as a whole, rather than one specific domain of development. Developmental therapists work closely with parents to provide strategies to target key developmental skills through play.
Early intervention physical therapy
Physical therapy works with children to build skills related to movement and strength, such as walking or crawling. Physical therapists work with children to address orthopedic diagnoses (related to bones and muscles), neurological diagnoses, genetic disorders, deviations in posture or positioning, developmental disabilities, generalized muscle weakness, hypotonia (low muscle tone) and hypertonia (high muscle tone), toe walking, or decreased balance and coordination.
Full-family involvement is a critical component of successful early intervention services. Throughout the therapeutic process, parents will be highly involved in the process, so that they can use these therapeutic techniques at home to reinforce positive behaviors. This consistency is extremely important during these critical years of early childhood development when children are sponges.