Early intervention is a system of services that helps babies and toddlers with developmental delays or disabilities. Early intervention focuses on helping eligible babies and toddlers learn the basic and brand-new skills that typically develop during the first three years of life, such as:

  • physical (reaching, rolling, crawling, and walking);
  • cognitive (thinking, learning, solving problems);
  • communication (talking, listening, understanding);
  • social/emotional (playing, feeling secure and happy); and
  • self-help (eating, dressing).

Examples of early intervention services | If an infant or toddler has a disability or a developmental delay in one or more of these developmental areas, that child will likely be eligible for early intervention services. Those services will be individualized to meet the child’s individual needs and may include:

  • Assistive technology (devices a child might need)
  • Audiology or hearing services
  • Speech and language services
  • Counseling and training for a family
  • Occupational therapy
  • Physical therapy
  • Psychological services
  • Medical services
  • Nursing services
  • Nutrition services
  • Vision therapy

Services may also be provided to address the needs and priorities of the child’s family. Family-directed services are meant to help family members understand the special needs of their child and how to enhance his or her development.

Early intervention is available in every state and territory of the United States. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires it–Part C of IDEA, to be precise. That’s why you’ll sometimes hear early intervention referred to as Part C.

Early intervention is intended for infants and toddlers who are suspected of developmental delay or a diagnosed condition. Eligibility is determined by evaluating the child (with parents’ consent) to see if the child, in fact, have a delay in development or a disability. Eligible children can receive early intervention services from birth through the third birthday (and sometimes beyond).

Section 619 of Part B of IDEA, defines the preschool program which guarantees a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to children with disabilities age three through five. Under this program preschool children who have disabilities are entitled to Special Education and Related Services in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). Young children, who have been identified as having any of the conditions named in Part B of IDEA including Developmental Delays, are eligible to receive services under Section 619 of IDEA.

A team, which includes the parent and professionals specializing in evaluating the needs of young children, will assess and review test results, reports and all other pertinent information. This team must carefully consider all information about the child’s development and medical history before making a decision. Eligibility decisions for young children depend on consideration of environmental, language and socio-economic factors in addition to any testing results. For more information about team membership and eligibility determination, see the IDEA Parents’ Guide at http://www.p12.nysed.gov/specialed/publications/policy/parentguide.htm

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex developmental disorder that can cause problems with thinking, feeling, language and the ability to relate to others. It is a neurological disorder, which means it affects the functioning of the brain. The effects of autism and the severity of symptoms are different in each person.

Autism is usually first diagnosed in childhood. About one in 68 children is diagnosed with autism according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Autism spectrum disorder is three to four times more common in boys than in girls.

Autism is most often a lifelong disorder, though there are more and more cases of children with ASD who eventually function independently, leading full lives. The information here focuses primarily on children and adolescents.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is the use of techniques and principles that focus on improving specific behaviors, such as social skills, communication, reading, and academics as well as adaptive learning skills, such as fine motor dexterity, hygiene, grooming, domestic capabilities, punctuality, and job competence. ABA is effective for children and adults with psychological disorders in a variety of settings, including schools, workplaces, homes, and clinics. It has also been shown that consistent ABA can significantly improve behaviors and skills and decrease the need for special services.

Autism differs from person to person in severity and combinations of symptoms. There is a great range of abilities and characteristics of children with autism spectrum disorders — no two children appear or behave the same way. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and often change over time.

Characteristics of autism spectrum disorder fall into three categories.

  • Communication problems: including difficulty using or understanding language. Some children with autism focus their attention and conversation on a few topic areas, some frequently repeat phrases and some have very limited speech.
  • Difficulty relating to people, things and events:including trouble making friends and interacting with people, difficulty reading facial expressions and not making eye contact.
  • Repetitive body movements or behaviors: such as hand flapping or repeating sounds or phrases.

Many children with autism are attentive to routines and sameness and have difficulty adjusting to unfamiliar surroundings or changes in routine. Many people with autism have normal cognitive skills, while others have cognitive challenges. Some are at greater risk for some medical conditions – such as sleep problems and seizures.

  • By 6 months, no social smiles or other warm, joyful expressions directed at people
  • By 6 months, limited or no eye contact
  • By 9 months, no sharing of vocal sounds, smiles or other nonverbal communication
  • By 12 months, no babbling
  • By 12 months, no use of gestures to communicate (e.g. pointing, reaching, waving etc.)
  • By 12 months, no response to name when called
  • By 16 months, no words
  • By 24 months, no meaningful, two-word phrases
  • Any loss of any previously acquired speech, babbling or social skills
  • Avoids eye contact and prefers to be alone
  • Struggles with understanding other people’s feelings
  • Remains nonverbal or has delayed language development
  • Repeats words or phrases over and over (echolalia)
  • Gets upset by minor changes in routine or surroundings
  • Has highly restricted interests
  • Performs repetitive behaviors such as flapping, rocking or spinning
  • Has unusual and often intense reactions to sounds, smells, tastes, textures, lights and/or colors

ABA normally teaches acceptable behavior, academic skills, self-help skills and more. In most cases, when undesirable behaviors are not reinforced and rewarded, the child loses interest in perpetuating them.

For more difficult behaviors, the child is redirected from the problem behavior to an alternative that is socially acceptable. While the initial teaching is often repetitive and involves a large amount of structure and imitation, significant efforts go into teaching the child how to learn and into making sure that the lessons are fun for the child.

If the program is done well, children often enjoy the lessons enough to request them. Also, as the child advances, the highly structured program becomes more flexible. Lessons are taught in a variety of situations as skills become generalized to the point where the child can adapt to new situations.