Sometimes, you know that your child will have special needs at birth, or even before. Other times, developmental delays take a while to reveal themselves. Regardless, that moment of discovery can indeed be a difficult one, emotionally and mentally. But what you will realize shortly afterward is that a whole army of trained professionals and support services stand ready to step alongside you, even at the earliest steps of your journey.
Early intervention programs are available to infants and toddlers (birth to 36 months) who have significant delays or a condition likely to result in a developmental delay. It seems so young to intervene, but researchers agree: The benefits are undeniable.
According to Florida’s early intervention program, called Early Steps, “Science clearly demonstrates that intervening as early as possible benefits healthy brain development. Getting help early puts your child on the right path to learn and develop at their full potential.”
Your child isn’t the only one that will benefit from early intervention, though. As caregivers, you’ll gain access to therapists who can offer wisdom, reassurance, and ideas for exercises to do between sessions to further your child’s progress. You may learn about other support services, and you’ll develop your own sense of how best to advocate for your child.
To access services, your child will need to be declared eligible. Early Steps evaluators will check for delays in six areas of development:
- Physical (health, hearing, vision)
- Cognitive (thinking, learning, problem solving)
- Gross and fine motor (moving, walking, grasping, coordination)
- Communication (babbling, languages, speech, conversation)
- Social/emotional (playing, interacting)
- Adaptive (feeding, toileting, dressing).
An evaluation won’t be necessary if your child is automatically eligible due to a diagnosed physical or mental condition that has a high probability of resulting in a developmental delay. You may find that your pediatrician refers you to Early Steps, or your pediatrician may choose to take a “wait and see” approach. Considering the importance of early intervention, you can always opt not to wait and see and call Early Steps yourself at (800) 218-0001.
After your child is deemed eligible, you will be assigned a service coordinator who will help develop an Individualized Family Support Plan (IFSP) and arrange for services at your home and at places where your child likes to play. Common services include speech and language instruction, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and Applied Behavior Analysis. For most services, there is not a charge or the fees will be covered by insurance or Medicaid.
Babies grow and change so quickly. Early intervention services can help your child thrive and grow, so start your journey today.