Early Intervention (EI) is a federal program that started with the 1975 Education of All Handicapped Children Act. This provides services to babies and toddlers, under the age of 36 months, who have been diagnosed with a disability, who are not learning and growing at the same rate as other children their age, or who are at risk of having developmental delays in their learning and growing. The earlier a child receives services, the more time there is to influence positive learning outcomes.
An EI program should address 5 areas of development, with more specific services customized to meet each child’s particular need:
Research shows that the first 3 years of life is a critical developmental period in a child’s life. This time offers a window of opportunity that will not be available again. EI minimizes and in some cases prevents delays in development of infants and toddlers with disabilities. It can decrease the need for special education services when a child enters school and increase independence. Children whose special needs are identified and addressed during these crucial years have a greater chance of reaching their full potential.
Years of research demonstrate that a child’s earliest experiences play a significant role in brain development. The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University has summarized this research:
It is so critical to recognize as early as possible the children in need of services to make sure that intervention is provided when the developing brain is most capable of change. This way it can reduce the incidence of future problems in their learning, behavior and health status. Your commitment and involvement as parents in an EI plan is critical to the success of your child. Even with regular therapy, the majority of your child’s learning will take place with you and those at home. During every part of EI, make sure to be aware of things you can do at home to continue his or her optimal development.