So What Does Good Early Intervention Look Like?
For many parents, working with an early interventionist is a new experience, and it’s one that you don’t often have a frame of reference for. It’s not like taking your child to the doctor, and it’s not really like when you’ve seen a physical therapist following an injury of your own. You want to make sure your child is getting the best services, so you need to know what good early intervention (or EI) looks like. You might wonder…how does this EI thing work? What am I supposed to do during these visits? How do I know if what’s happening is what’s supposed to happen?
Fortunately, there’s lots of great information available to help you know what to expect, such as:
VIDEO – What is Early Intervention in Virginia? – This 8:45 min video explains what EI is, what it looks like, and why it works. You’ll hear from early interventionists and families and see examples of intervention visits.
VIDEO – Early Intervention – A Routines-Based Approach: What EI Can and Should Look Like – This 7:20 min video illustrates what EI looks like when you work with a service provider during your daily routines and activities, like going to a restaurant, playing outside with the dog, eating lunch, and playing with toys. You’ll hear from early interventionists and families too.
HANDOUT – What to Expect During an Early Intervention Visits – This handout describes typical activities and interactions during visits with EI service providers.
These pages include links to print and video resources about EI.
If you want to know more about best practices in EI, like how to know if your service provider is using them, here are a few things to look for:
Your early interventionist asks about and wants to join you and your child during the activities and routines that are a part of your life. An early interventionist who uses best practices will ask about how you and your child spend your day, what you enjoy, what is challenging, and what you would like to see your child do or be able to do with your child. Discussing and observing what you do every day helps the interventionist understand what’s important to you. It also helps you and the interventionist come up with intervention strategies that fit into your daily life, are really useful to your family, and helpful to your child.
You help decide what to do on each visit and where to do it. Each visit might be different, depending on what your child needs to learn, what you and your child enjoy doing, what you want to accomplish, and what outcomes and goals were written on the IFSP. This means that on one visit, for example, your interventionist may join you and your child during a routine such as lunchtime, to help you encourage your child to request favorite foods. Another visit might occur out in your back yard to practice using words to label favorite activities, such as sandbox, ball, and swing. Next time, you might decide to play with toys in the living room to help your child learn to take turns and identify pictures in his favorite books. Another visit might involve a trip to the grocery store, where you work together to find ways for your child to stay in the grocery cart while learning about the colors of veggies. Sometimes what you do on a visit is based on problem-solving a routine that is hard for you or your child, and that’s okay too. It’s up to you.
You are an active participant during visits, interacting with your child and practicing using intervention strategies with the support of the early interventionist. Instead of just sitting on the sidelines and watching the interventionist engage your child, you should be invited to be a part of the fun. This might involve the interventionist discussing strategies with you, showing you how to use a strategy, and then you trying it out with your child. You might problem-solve together, reflecting about whether or not a strategy worked. You might plan for how to change a strategy or routine to better help your child achieve a goal. To see a great example of a speech therapist and a mother working together, watch this video: Coaching in Action.
Each visit ends with planning for how you can use intervention strategies between visits. Each visit should end with identifying which strategy you plan to keep using during the rest of the week. Each visit should also begin with the service provider checking in to see how it went for you with using the strategy. What happens during the visit should support what you do with your child between visits, when most of your child’s learning occurs.
For more information about what good EI looks like, check out these Practice Guides for Families (ECTA Center and DEC) which include handouts and video clips to help you know what to look for.
An early interventionist’s job is to help you help your child, during and between visits. You might think that EI is designed to focus on your child, but when best practices are used, the support is really all about you too!
What characteristics do you look for in a good intervention visit?
What questions do you have about how early intervention works?
Dana Childress, Ph.D. is an Early Intervention Professional Development Consultant with the Partnership for People with Disabilities at Virginia Commonwealth University. She has worked in the field of early intervention (EI) for over 20 years as an early childhood special educator, service coordinator, supervisor, trainer, and writer. She currently works as part of Virginia's early intervention professional development team developing professional development resources and conducting web-based and in-person training. She manages content for the Virginia Early Intervention Professional Development Center (www.veipd.org/main/) and writes the Early Intervention Strategies for Success blog (www.veipd.org/earlyintervention). Dana is the co-author of the book, Family-Centered Practices in Early Intervention: Supporting Infants and Toddlers in Natural Environments. Her most important accomplishment, though, is being the mother of a young teenager who briefly received EI many years ago. The experience of receiving EI definitely made her a better parent and hopefully a better early interventionist too.