Nancy Thorner, M.A., CCC | Article

The Importance of Early Identification and Intervention

Helping Future Generations Succeed One Word at a Time

The Importance of Early Identification and Intervention
By Nancy Thorner, M.A., CCC

Background Information/History of Early Intervention:
Have you noticed the increased focus in recent years on the importance of evaluating and treating developmental and communication problems early on? Has your state enacted legislation to increase early childhood programs and pre-kindergarten instruction? It is no coincidence that there is a push for providing young children with increased stimulation in the early years. By taking advantage of a young child’s brain flexibility during this important window of time (0-3 years), children can be afforded the “jump-start” they need to excel academically, emotionally and socially (www.nectac.org ). Whether a young child is experiencing speech( pronunciation of sounds), language(vocabulary, grammar, understanding what is said), sensory(taste ,smell ,hearing ,touch) or motor (physical) development issues, early assessment and planning can prove to be invaluable. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) recently launched a campaign to “identify the signs , so as to educate the public on what to look out for and the importance of early identification of speech-language-hearing problems(www.identifythesigns.org ).

The first early intervention programs to emerge on the scene in the early 1980s and 90s, were called infant stimulation” and were designed for children diagnosed with specific medical conditions and/or disabilities. Programs such as infant stimulation , were then mandated by federal legislation and required educational systems to provide services to children with disabilities. In 1990 the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA was born, and services started to be extended to preschool-age and eventually to infants and toddlers (Part C of IDEA). This legislation grew out of awareness of the crucial role early identification and treatment plays in children’s lives (Kristen Olsen, Ph.D., Washington Parent June 2009).

My personal philosophy related to Early Identification and Intervention:

At Earlyspeak, a private practice located in Damascus, Maryland, I emphasize to parents that the “wait and see” approach can negatively impact a child’s future development and academic success, including reading and writing skills. It is almost always more effective to address developmental delays or differences early in a child’s development instead of waiting until they become more severe or interfere with peer relationships and self- esteem. As development is ongoing and the communication and academic demands continue to increase in the years to come, addressing any issues early can lay the groundwork for a child’s future functioning and quality of life and help advocate for needed services.

Parents oftentimes do know best:
As parents, you know your children best and may be the first to notice problems or concerns. You may need to advocate for an evaluation of the problem and any needed intervention. Being told to wait a few years when your child’s areas of difficulty have worsened and are impacting their daily functioning may not sit well with your better judgment. Contacting a developmental pediatrician who specializes in all areas of childhood development, may be the first step in advocating for services. Parents should always be comfortable asking questions and looking for additional information and resources to learn more about their children’s needs and available services.

According to The American Academy of Pediatrics, children should be screened for disorders such as autism at 18 and 24 months, or whenever a parent or provider has a concern. Knowing these signs can help you seek screening early and pave the way for early diagnosis and intervention.
Some Early Red Flags to look for include:
• Smiles late or very minimally. Smiling occurs
in the first few months of life.
• Seldom makes eye contact with people.
Typically, eye contact emerges between two and four months.
• Does not respond to calling of their name with head turns. This reaction begins
between eight and ten months.
• Does not turn or look when you point or say
“look at this.” This usually occurs between ten
and 12 months.
• Does not point at objects or people. Pointing
typically emerges between 12 to 14 months
• Does not babble in a speech-like way. Sounds are not varied
• Does not appear to understand common words or simple requests
• Does not imitate speech sounds
• Is not acquiring new words between 1 and 2 years of age
• Is not putting words together to form short phrases such as “more cookie” by 2 years
• Is not speaking in a way that family and friends can understand (between 2 and 3 years) or is repeating and/or prolonging sounds
• Does not appear to hear what is said
• Does not enjoy playing with others (kids or adults)
• Does not seek out your gaze to gain attention

If you have any of the above concerns or feel that your child is not developing the same as his/her siblings or peers, please contact your pediatrician and seek out an evaluation from a Speech-Language Pathologist. A hearing evaluation from a licensed Audiologist may also be indicated, particularly if your child has a history of ear infections or does not appear to hear or understand what is being said. Collaboration between professionals, educators and parents can truly make a difference in your child’s life.