Intuitively a parent may know that there may be something not quite right about their child. However personal denial or well meaning relatives or friends who may say, “No, give him/her time to mature, all will be well.” may delay early assessment of a child who may be at risk for a developmental delay. One can never underscore the value or importance of early intervention of a child who maybe have developmental delays.

With the rise of developmental, behavioral, and learning disabilities, there is still much that remains to be understood, from cause to cure. However, it is a widely-accepted fact that early and intensive intervention can have a profound impact on the quality of life for children at risk and their families. The key is early identification. But recognizing the early signs can be a challenge for parents and healthcare professionals alike.

Early intervention applies to children of school age or younger who are discovered to have, or be at risk of developing a handicapping condition or other special need that may impede their learning & development. Early intervention consists of services and provisions for such children and their families so that the negative impact/effects of the condition may be lessened. It can be remedial or preventive in nature, meaning it can remediate existing developmental problems or prevent their occurrence.

Children with alternative learning styles take much longer to learn regular tasks.   If early intervention programs are not provided, learning gaps widen, making it more difficult for the child to cope with his surroundings. When a child feels he is not learning, no matter how hard he tries, there comes an overwhelming sense of helplessness, that can lead to feelings of isolation. Through early intervention programs, children are taught early on, compensatory strategies, that help them make sense of their world and their condition; thus children gain a sense of control and security that makes learning and adapting to the environment manageable.

The focus of early intervention is on the child; however, it may also include the family. When a child with special needs is born to a family, it becomes a family matter, because everyone is affected by the disability, be they a parent or a sibling. Thus, early intervention programs must include family counselling and participation to help families cope with the impact of having a family member with special needs.

Early intervention may begin at any time between birth and school age. However, there are many reasons for it to begin as early as possible. Early intervention programs may be center-based, home-based, hospital-based, or a combination. Services range from identification–that is, hospital or school screening and referral services–to diagnostic and direct intervention programs.

There are three primary reasons for intervening early with an exceptional child:

1.) to enhance the child’s development.

2.) to provide support and assistance to the family; and

3.) to maximize the child’s and family’s benefit to society.

Research in child development has established that the rate of human learning and development is most rapid in the preschool years. Timing of intervention becomes particularly important when a child runs the risk of missing an opportunity to learn during a state of maximum readiness. If the most teachable moments or stages of greatest readiness are not taken advantage of, a child may have difficulty learning a particular skill at a later time.

A concrete example of the positive effects of early intervention is in our preschool. In the beginning of the school year, we had 4 preschoolers in a resource room with partial mainstreaming. Because of the effectiveness of the program and the positive response of the young preschoolers, they were completely integrated to the regular preschool by the second semester. Today one cannot even distinguish one child from another.

Early intervention services also have a significant impact on the parents and siblings of an exceptional infant or young child. The family of a young exceptional child often feels disappointment, social isolation, added stress, frustration, and helplessness. The compounded stress of the presence of an exceptional child may affect the family’s well-being and interfere with the child’s development.

First, Early intervention can result in parents having improved attitudes about themselves and their child, improved information and skills for teaching their child, and more time for leisure and enjoyment.  Second. Parents of gifted preschoolers also need early services so that they may better provide the supportive and nourishing environment needed by the child.

Early intervention centers provide a venue for families who share a common bond, that of having a differently-abled child. Meeting someone or being with someone who shares common issues and concerns can be a great source of solace to families who have children with special needs. Often times, they become a springboard from which support groups are borne.

A third reason for intervening early is that society will reap maximum benefits. The child’s increased developmental and educational gains and decreased dependence upon social institutions, the family’s increased ability to cope with the presence of an exceptional child, and perhaps the child’s increased eligibility for employment, all provide economic as well as social benefits.

Early intervention has been shown to result in the child: (a) needing fewer special education and other habilitative services later in life; (b) being retained in grade less often; and (c) in some cases being indistinguishable from non handicapped classmates years after intervention.

Children with special needs usually have learning gaps. This means they are behind developmentally in one or more areas as compared to children of their same chronological age. When an early intervention program is provided, these gaps are narrowed.   To some they are completely erased. When this occurs, the child will need fewer support services and will be able to cope in a regular learning environment. Further, because the learning gaps have been addressed, there is less risk that the child will fail in school. For a child who has experienced the struggle of learning and the humiliation of failing, this is such a welcome relief. It also helps build up their self esteem and confidence, that have otherwise been probably quite battered.

For a parent who has a child with special needs, there is nothing in the world that they could wish for, other than to have their children be like other children. Although, I hate to say “normalize” because other in my eyes all children are normal, it is a reality that every special needs parent dreams of having a normal child. An effective early intervention program, may give some special needs children a chance to be in a mainstream program to the point that they are even indistinguishable from their other classmates. To me, this is one of the most fulfilling benefits of an early intervention program can give to a special needs child and parent.

Some information from this material was borrowed from kids