Today I will talk about one of my favorite soap boxes, Early Intervention! Never heard of it? You are not alone. If I was just a tiny bit crazier, I would be one of those people who go around with a megaphone telling strangers the importance of Early Childhood Intervention. It is such a great service for families and I feel like it’s just not talked about enough.
Early Intervention is a program in the U.S. that supports families of children with delays, disabilities, and medical conditions. They provide tons of services including feeding, speech, occupational therapy, physical therapy, cognitive interventions, and more. The best part- the evaluation is FREE!
Now, I know many parents who bring up initial concerns with friends, family, and sometimes even therapists or doctors are told, “Let’s just wait and see.” Am I right? I bet a LOT of you heard this. Warning- hoping on my (other...) soap box- ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Wait and see? As a parent, when others do not seem worried about something you express concern over, what is your response? Relief? “I was just overreacting, nothing is wrong, thank goodness.” Embarrassment? “I shouldn’t have asked that, they will think I’m that parent that panics over everything.” Then, after six months of waiting with no improvement, you might feel anger over what your child could have accomplished in that time with intervention.
Many of you are probably wondering, “What’s wrong with wait and see?”. And it kind-of does sound like a good approach, and it’s certainly easier. Many kids do “catch up” and go on to not need therapy. I bet many parents will tell you about their child who didn’t talk until he was four and is now a rocket scientist. But honestly, how many people would regret getting help for their child if they were soon dismissed due to exceptional progress? Who would think that was a waste of time or money? I would be ecstatic if that happened to my child, and would much rather them learn to speak with intervention by two rather than waiting it out until they were four (I mean, I bet that would be a frustrating couple of years!) But, the truth is, many kids don’t catch up for a long time – or ever- and the ONE thing research tells us about kids with delays is that early intervention is the key to making the best possible progress!
Getting a child evaluated ends with three results: 1. Delayed development and qualifies for EI therapy which gets the child help, 2. Slight delay, doesn’t qualify, which results in you knowing what to look for, seeking private services, and/or getting another evaluation at a later date if needed, or 3. No delay which gives parent reassurance that their child is where he/she should be at that time as well as skills to monitor to know if/when to re-refer. Did I mention evaluations through EI are free? Are there any negatives to this? None that I can see!
When I expressed concern with our pediatrician about my son’s gross motor delays, the response was, “He’s in the typical range”. Lucky for me, I had enough knowledge to know that he was actually below the typical range and that pediatricians are great generalists, but not specialists or physical therapists- so I asked for a referral. We are also lucky that our pediatrician listens to parents, and because I knew my son probably wasn’t delayed enough to qualify for EI, I ended up getting a referral for a private PT evaluation.
Around this time, I was referring a friend to EI who had been told to ‘wait and see’. She was so excited when I told her she didn't have to wait and could self refer to Early Intervention! When I went online to find which EI program she needed to call, I found this magical link that showed all of the diagnoses that will automatically qualify kids. WHAT? Kids can automatically qualify for services, and I didn’t know this?
My son Kam was born with a genetic disorder called Duerte’s Galactosemia, which luckily and majorly oversimplifying it, doesn’t impact him on a regular basis. But, it’s an automatic qualifier. Also on the list, plagiocephaly, which is literally a flat head, which my son also had (side note: he was the CUTEST in his helmet). My kid had two things that would automatically qualify him for PT services and nobody told me about EI. His therapist at the cranial helmet center was shocked and had NO idea kids could automatically qualify for services either! Why is this not widely known?
We had Kam evaluated and I was right, he wasn't low enough to qualify on his gross motor delays alone, but he did with his diagnoses! And he received therapy for a year before he graduated!
So now that we know how I feel about getting an evaluation and how I have personally been impacted by EI, here’s some more info: They come to your house for evaluations and therapy (or daycare center if needed), and the therapist will teach you how to work with your child. In some states services are free and in others (like where I am in Texas) is based off of a sliding scale -which for us was very affordable!
Disclaimer… Does EI work for everyone? Of course not, there is no “one size fits all” for children when it comes to therapy and services. Have other people you talked to had bad experiences with EI? Of course. Do they not qualify kids who really might need services? Unfortunately, this happens in many settings and kids are missed all the time. If EI says your child does not qualify, but they did have delays, I encourage you to seek a private evaluation, particularly if you are still concerned.
But… You won’t know if EI works for you and your family unless you try it. Please give them a call if you – or anyone else in your child’s life- has concerns. If you are concerned, but every professional you talk to dismisses your concerns, call them. Even if you know your child is average, but someone else has told you they have concerns, go ahead and schedule. Is it scary? Heck yes! Hearing something could be different about your child can be terrifying. Remember the evaluation just gives you information, what you choose to do with it is up to you. I encourage you all to take advantage of this opportunity, because that one step could make a huge difference in your child’s life.