Early Intervention is a free service for Massachusetts families that provides support and guidances in all areas of child growth and development. The primary focus is family education, training, and support for children. The goal is to assist parents or caregivers to incorporate therapeutic and developmentally appropriate strategies into their typical daily routines. Children from birth to age three can qualify for early intervention.  

What types of services are offered?

Services cover a wide range of developmental areas.  Typically, programs have quite a few specializations on staff, including but not limited to physical therapists, speech therapists, developmental specialists, social workers, nurses, and mental health clinicians.  Through a combination of parent interview along with some simple and engaging evaluations, a team of specialists will help to determine in what areas the child may qualify for support.  

Who can refer a child to Early Intervention?

While the referral may come from a pediatrician or a childcare provider, parents are also able to self refer for early intervention services. Pediatricians often only see a snapshot of the child during the regular well visits through questions or surveys. These brief conversations aren’t always probing enough to really get a sense of the child’s needs. 

How does Early Intervention work?

Once it has been determined that a child qualifies for services, the assigned specialist assigned will meet with parents. They will create an Individualized Family Service Plan, or IFSP.  This is similar to an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) used by the public schools when children are older. This plan will take into consideration the needs or both the parents/caregivers as well as the of the child. To help the child reach intended milestones, together goals will be set within a timeframe. Next, specialist will decide the appropriate services, along with their frequency and duration. During each session, the specialist(s) will work with both the parent/caregiver and the child to teach strategies to help meet the set goals.  

What is the parent’s role in Early Intervention?

The parent/caregiver’s role is really the glue that makes the whole system work.  While a specialist will spend an hour or two a week with a child, the adult that is is primarily with the child the majority of the time will need to be able to implement consistent strategies to truly help meet milestones. The role of the early intervention specialist is to teach the parent/caregiver through example and suggestion, how to best support the child’s developmental needs. An early intervention specialist’s main goal is to aide parents in learning how to best support their child throughout parts of their typical day – not to set aside “therapy time” which may become tedious and unrealistic to keep up.  

Why are some parents hesitant to seek developmental support?

Most people have heard the adage “it takes a village to raise a child,” but often times parents are hesitant to let professionals aside from their pediatrician, be a part of that village. Although the stigma surrounding developmental delays is beginning to fade, it is unfortunately still something that holds some parents back from seeking additional support for their child. Additionally, parents may be unaware that their child is in need of extra help. Parents may be tempted to compare their child to other children of a similar age or to how older siblings may have progressed. Comparisons like this are not an effective or accurate way to assess development as every child grows and develops in different ways.  

What is the benefit of Early Intervention?

The real question is, what is the risk?  At the very least, the child is assessed by experts in their fields and determined not to require services. At the most, the child and family are excepted into the program and can benefit from the knowledge of these professionals. Every parent wants to give their chid the best possible start and early intervention is there to provide the necessary tools to help do just that.  

About The Author

Sarah PSarah Proctor has worked with young children for over 25 years as a teacher, childcare director, nanny, and mom of two girls. She has her Bachelors Degree in Early Childhood Education and Administration from UMass Amherst. In addition, Sarah has her Director 2 certification from the Department of Early Education and Care. 

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