Early Intervention is often sought by parents with children who have Autism Spectrum Disorder or other developmental delays, but what is Early Intervention and how can parents go about finding appropriate and effective Early Intervention services? We answer your questions below:
What is Early Intervention?
Early Intervention, or Early Childhood Early Intervention (ECEI) is an approach that supports families and children with developmental delays or disabilities, to access therapies or daily activities to help them make progress and meet their goals. Typically, ECEI supports children who are 7 years and younger.
What is the Purpose of an Early Childhood Intervention Service (ECIS)?
The main purpose of an ECIS is to support children with developmental delays and help them meet their milestones. The ultimate goal is to provide children with the skills they need to learn in the same environments their peers learn in and to catch them up to their peers so they can continue their learning with them.
We know that accessing ECIS as early as possible is key. The younger a child is when they start ECEI, the less time they have had to fall behind, so catching them up can be a quicker and easier process.
Young children have had less time to learn inappropriate or challenging behaviours as a means to communicate and have their needs met, by getting in early, functional skills can be taught so the child can easily have their needs met in more appropriate ways. Young children have a great ability to learn and adapt and their brains are malleable, so the earlier ECIS’ are accessed, the greater the outcomes and the chance for that child to reach their potential.
Do I Need a Referral for an ECIS?
Generally, we find that paediatricians or a GP may suggest a child seeks early intervention services.
For Early Intensive Behavioural Intervention (EIBI), you don’t often need a referral, but you may require one for other services such as speech therapy and for Medicare to cover some of the costs. It is best to speak with your GP about this first.
Early Intervention Versus Standard Care (Not Seeking Early Intervention Help) - What is the Difference?
Many children who access Early Intervention do not require support, or require less intensive support services later in life.
With Standard Care there is the risk of children not meeting age-appropriate milestones or developing new skills at an appropriate rate, resulting in them falling behind their peers. Those children with developmental delays who do not access early intervention services often require additional support and care later in life and throughout their adult years.
Early Intervention or Private Speech Therapy, Which Is Best?
Speech Therapy falls under the Early Intervention umbrella. Early Intervention includes any therapy or services focused on developing a child's skills in the early years (e.g., 7 years and younger).
Various EI based therapies will complement each other and depending on the child’s needs they may access many early intervention therapies (e.g., speech therapy, occupational therapy, and ABA therapy), or they may only access one early intervention therapy. It all depends on the child’s specific needs and their intervention plan should be individualised to suit these needs.
How Does Early Intervention Support Children’s Development?
Firstly, it is important to identify exactly which areas a child requires support to assist with their development. For example, if a child has delayed speech or language skills, then speech therapy alone may be the most appropriate service. If the child was struggling with motor skills, they may go and see an occupational therapist, or if social skills were a concern, they might join a social skills group.
If their needs are more complex or need support in a variety of areas, an intensive program such as ABA therapy and/or a combination of all therapies above may be best.
Once the intervention supports are in place, the child’s progress should be monitored carefully to ensure the supports are effective in helping the child meet their goals. The provider should offer full transparency around the systems used to track progress and the progress that the child has made. If the child is not making progress, then alternative or additional support should be recommended.
When appropriate and effective early intervention supports are in place, the child should begin to meet developmental milestones at a relatively faster rate, compared to the rate at which they were meeting milestones prior to accessing support. Again, the goal is for the supports in place to provide the child with the skills they need to catch up to and engage in learning with their peers, so eventually the early intervention supports can be systematically faded out.
Why is Early Intervention Important?
Early intervention helps children develop the key foundational skills they need to learn and thrive within their environment. It helps set children up for school and provides them with many more learning and social opportunities.
Early intervention can provide children with the chance to not require support later in their life. It’s about being proactive and helping the child when they are young and the gap between the child’s skills and the skills of their peers is small.
Does Early Intervention Mean Autism?
No, early intervention does not mean autism. Children who do not have an ASD diagnosis may also access early intervention services.
For children diagnosed with ASD, best practice is that they receive an average of 20 hours per week of early intensive behavioural intervention. On top of this, they may also be engaging in speech and language therapy, as well as occupational therapy.
For children with ASD, the key is not just getting in early, but also the intensity of the intervention. The more time they spend practicing the skills, the sooner they acquire these skills and the more likely they are to maintain them.
Children who do not have a diagnosis of ASD often access early intervention services but for various other reasons. They may have another developmental diagnosis, such a global developmental delay, or they may have a speech delay.
Some children may not have a diagnosis at all but may still require some support in a certain area.
It is likely that these children will access much less intense services than those with ASD, for example, they may go to a social skills group for 1 hour on a weekend or see a speech and language pathologist for 1 hour a week.
Again, early intervention services should be tailored to the child and their specific needs.
Why is Early Intervention Important When Developmental Delay is Suspected?
If a developmental delay is suspected, the best thing to do is to see your GP or speak with a child development professional for advice. Often parents are told to “wait and see” however this approach comes with its own risks.
For example, if the child does require support, but the family is using the “wait and see” approach, they may be losing vital time that they could have spent setting up and engaging their child in some support services. As time goes on, if the child did require support, the gap between them and their peers is only increasing, and the delay is becoming more significant.
If parents are concerned at all, the best thing to do is to get the supports in place as early as possible, and if it turns out these may have not been needed or as big of a concern as initially thought, then the service provider or professional working with your child is likely to recommend fading out of the supports, however that relationship has been formed and the support is there should your child need it.
It should be noted that many children require early intervention support, and this does not mean that there is a problem with your child, it just means that they need a little bit of extra support and a boost to get them along their way.
What is Early Intervention in Child Care?
Some childcare centres may arrange Early Intervention as a service provided within their centre. Check in with your day care centre or preschool to find out more information.
Early Intervention Services such as ours, provide services in a child’s daycare and preschool setting as well as at home, with an aim to ensure they are learning in a variety of settings. This is organised through the family rather than directly through the day care or preschool service.
What is an Early Intervention Coordinator?
Early Intervention Coordinators (ECEI coordinators) can help connect you with the various support needed in your area. To find your local ECEI coordinator, head to the NDIS locations web page.
What Are the Disadvantages of Early Intervention?
Some Early Intervention services may not be backed by sufficient research, so it’s always best to check what is known about the therapy. Ensuring that you are aware of the possible risks associated with the therapy is important, as well as the cost and the outcomes that can be achieved.
Established and evidence-based therapies are always the safest, as they have been around for many years and have extensive research supporting them. A great starting point is heading to the Raising Children website.
Is Early Intervention Effective?
Yes, Early Intervention is effective, however some therapies may be more effective than others.
According to Kodak & Bergmann (2020) "There is extensive empirical support for early intervention based on the principles of applied behaviour analysis (ABA)...The most significant gains are likely to occur if a child begins intervention before 5 years of age; however, ABA interventions are effective across the life span.1"
There are many different therapies that fall under ‘Early Intervention’ so it’s always a good idea to ensure that there is research to back the effectiveness of a particular therapy.
Whatever provider you are with, ensure that there are processes to track the child's progress and the provider is transparent with this so you can see if the service is helping or not.
What Can Early Intervention Do For a Family?
Early Intervention can do the following for families:
This shows us that it’s important for parents and other key people in a child’s life to be involved in their early intervention program.
Are Early Intervention Services Free?
Early Intervention Services are not free, however many EI services are included under the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). In which case families may not have to pay for all the services out of pocket.
You can contact your local area coordinator to find out which services are covered under NDIS funding and if these are available to your child. They will also help connect you with relevant services.
According to a study by Gavidia-Payne (2020) families typically contact the NDIA then seek a recommendation for a service provider: ‘In the first instance, information about a step-by-step pathway is provided to families upon contact with the NDIA. Families can then approach an ECEI partner organisation in their locality who, with the family, will tailor support to the child's individual needs and circumstances. This may mean connecting the family with the most appropriate supports in their local area on a short-basis, or longer-term supports through the NDIS.3‘
There is also information on support on the raising children website which you may find useful.
Seeking an Early Childhood Intervention Service can be very beneficial to families of children with learning or behavioural difficulties. Parents should seek guidance from their GP, developmental professionals, and authoritative sources such as the raising children website for up-to-date information on the therapies that may be most suited to their children.