Early Intervention Strategies for Success

Sharing What Works in Supporting Infants & Toddlers and the Families in Early Intervention

Early Intervention Strategies for Success, Tips, Insight and Support for EI Practitioners


We could call this one the “what’s in it for me?” principle. We know how we are…as adults, we usually pay attention to information that is most relevant to ourSmiling mother looks at toddler sitting in car seat and smiling current situation. We tend to remember information that is most immediately useful, skills that get our needs met, and strategies that we can practice right now. If we apply this principle to early intervention, we can see why it’s important that the IFSP outcomes and intervention strategies address what is important to the family, focusing first on immediate needs.

How Can We Use This Principle??

Find out what’s important right now. Find out from the family what goes well during the day and where the struggles are. It might be important for the child to learn to communicate when he’s “all done” to make mealtime easier for the whole family (and avoid the tossed bowl of mashed potatoes on the wall). Or how about the family who’s chronically sleep-deprived because the toddler wakes up the entire household several times each night? In any of these cases, working on sorting colors instead of addressing one of these immediate needs will be so much less meaningful. On the other hand, helping the toddler (and family) sleep well can improve the family’s quality of life and the child’s readiness to learn and manage his behavior. Much bigger impact.

Practice intervention strategies in real time. Rather than discussing the problematic routine (which is what research indicates we usually do), jump into it. Problem-solve together in real time. Find out how the parent and child interact and design intervention around what’s relevant to their specific interaction.

Weave needed skills into real life activities. I guarantee you that most families of toddlers do not spend time each day stacking one inch cubes or labeling puzzle pieces. They probably do, however, spend time each day putting away toys, building towers of cookies, talking while getting dressed in the morning, or helping the child practice using his fingers to pick up cheerios from the highchair tray. Challenge yourself to figure out how the child can learn a missing skill during the natural activities his family does every day.

Wrap IFSP outcomes around what is immediately relevant. Use the family’s words in the outcomes. Link their priorities to outcomes and weave in functional skills that are needed to address those priorities.

Be flexible and adjust intervention in the moment. You might start a visit thinking you are going to address one outcome, but something comes up that is more immediately important. The two examples you’ll read next will help illustrate this.

Consider Two Examples…

Think about these two examples of the same  family and interventionist:

Today, Jess and Parker’s mom had planned to meet during snacktime to try to weave communication opportunities into that routine. Parker was not very hungry, so only ate a few bites of goldfish crackers. As his mother prepared his snack, she described a current struggle with getting Parker into his car seat. Parker’s mom describes how he thrashes and arches his back when being placed in the car seat. He cries and his mother feels like she has to practically force him into a sitting position.

Example #1:  Jess and Parker’s mom discuss strategies while Parker plays in his highchair, with Jess suggesting things like offering Parker a toy to distract him, singing to him, or letting him crawl into the seat on his own. Parker’s mother agrees to try these ideas later and see how it goes. After the discussion, they decide to go outside in the backyard to practice working on Parker’s expressive language because he loves to play in his sandbox and it’s a beautiful day.

Example #2:  Jess asks if they can take Parker out to the car so that she can see what happens. Parker’s mom agrees and tells Parker it’s time to go for a ride. Once they get out to the minivan, Parker’s mom picks him up and he immediately starts to arch and fuss. Together, they problem-solve and try a few strategies. What ends up working is having Parker’s mom put him down by the door, playfully tell him to “hop in!” and let him crawl into the seat. Once there, he helps with the buckles then picks out a book or toy to hold while his mom gets in the car. During this process, Parker’s mom uses simple 1-2 word phrases to describe what Parker is doing or prompt him, such as open (for the door), buckle up, turn around, book, Mickey (for his favorite toy), and all done. They drive around the block and Parker does well. Getting in the car seat ends up becoming a great natural learning opportunity for Parker to communicate, follow directions, and manage his behavior.

So what do you think?

Which example shows Jess using adult learning principle #1?  How did each example benefit Parker and his mom?

What about when what’s most immediately relevant is completely different from the IFSP outcomes you’re supposed to address?

Think about which example more closely matches your current practices. On your next visit, try to be open to seizing those immediate opportunities and come back and share with us how it went!

Don’t miss the other posts in this series:

Adult Learning Principle #2: Linking New Learning to Prior Knowledge

Adult Learning Principle #3: Active Practice and Participation are Key!

Adult Learning Principle #4: Practicing Intervention Strategies in Real-Time

Adult Learning Principle #5: Feedback is How We Grow

2 comments on “Adult Learning Principle #1: Making Intervention Immediately Relevant

  • Michelle Lehman says:

    1. Example 2 shows this principle.
    -In example 1- they talked about feeding strategies, but then they went outside to play in the sandbox to work on expressive language while doing a favorite task in real time and would allow for some opportunity to work on problems that parent could point out.
    Example 2- was more relevant as it was a difficult moment that mom identified in real time to provide opportunity to problem solve. It provided mom with ideas that she can practice to build on her previous knowledge. The therapist was very flexible to work on mom/child struggles, versus preplanned therapy ideas.

    2. To make a good teamwork, sometimes you need to work on what is difficult/frustrating for the family to help calm and then they could probably use that problem solving situation into other areas for carry over. A creative therapist can always find a way to incorporate identified problems (Fine motor) into any activity that the parent’s may be having difficult with- such as buckling, climbing, using expressive language during the task.


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