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Early Intervention - Help parenting the special needs infant/toddler
by Lisa Simmons

"My child is too young for school and special education, but I KNOW that something isn't right - isn't there any way for my child to get help now."

If you are having similar feelings, the short answer is -- "Yes, there is help. Trust your instincts and find out everything you can about the Early Intervention services available in your community."

Every parent dreams of having a perfect baby -- unfortunately for thousands of families each year, these dreams end when their precious infant is slow to develop or has visible disabilities. It can be tempting for many families to drift in denial. Hoping that "time" will make everything better. Sometimes, well-intentioned family practitioners even encourage this type of drifting by responding to parent concerns with comments like, "Don't worry - different kids develop at different rates, just give him time."

Unfortunately, this can be a critical mistake. When a disability is identified in an infant or young child -- early intervention can begin and a quality early intervention program can help fill in the gaps and place a special needs child much closer to their same-age peers -- in social skills, communication skills, and even physical dexterity.

So what is early intervention?

Early intervention applies to children ages 5 or younger that have a disability or are at risk of developing a handicapping condition or other special need that may affect their development. The early intervention system is designed to provide services to children and their families that will lessen the effects of their condition. Early intervention can be focused on improving existing problem areas or preventing new problems from occurring. It can focus on just your child or on service to both your child and your family. It can also occur in any number of places:
 • At therapy or daycare centers
 • At home
 • At a hospital
 • Or in a combination of these places.

Early Intervention services range from identification--that is, screening and referral services--to diagnostic and direct intervention programs. Early intervention may begin at any time between birth and school age; however, to get the most benefit for your child, it should begin as early as possible. If you are concerned that your infant or toddler may have special needs, here are some excellent resources to check out:

Resource #1: Normal & Atypical Development
This article discusses the definition of normal and "atypical" development and gives important ideas to keep in mind about development. Developmental milestones including areas of cognition, language, motor coordination, social interaction, and self-help skills are discussed.

Resource #2: The New Vision for Parents Packet
This packet is available from Zero to Three: The National Center for Infants, Toddlers, & Families and explains the language and process of developmental assessment in a family friendly style. (Note: Because this site is done in frames I can't offer you a direct link to the packet. However click here to visit Zero to Three and then type "New Vision" in the search box to find it easily.)

Resource #3: Early Identification Tools
These tools can help you verify your concerns or have more confidence in your doctors recommendation to "wait & see". You can also use them as a symptom checklist to go over with your family doctor if you decide to request that he/she take your concerns seriously and set up formal testing.

 • The CSBS DP Infant-Toddler Checklist
This is a free, downloadable checklist (a multiple-choice questionnaire) that can be easily completed by a parent in 5 to 10 minutes. It is a great first step in screening for developmental delays in children from 6 to 24 months of age. Instructions for scoring and interpreting the results are available online.

 • Early Identification tools from Coping.org This site offers a variety of tools for parents to use that are designed specifically to help with early identification and intervention for child between the ages of 0-5 years.

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Resource #4: And finally, be sure to read "A Parent's Guide To Accessing Programs For Infant, Toddlers, and Preschoolers With Disabilities"
This guide will help you learn how to find and get the most out of the early intervention resources available in your community.

However bumpy a start your parenting journey may have had, take heart. Your child is unique, special and able to bring your heart years of joy that you can only imagine today! By identifying his/her special needs early, you can rest assured that you are giving your child the best possible chance for a successful life.

© 2004, Lisa Simmons. All Rights Reserved. Lisa is the creator of the Ideal Lives Online Advocacy & Inclusion Center. The Center supports parents raising children with special needs by providing tools, resources, and information needed to get results. The focus -- making support simple and connecting advocates to answers.

To take the Ideal Lives learning community for a test drive, visit Lisa at Ideal Lives.

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