Entering the field of early intervention can be a great adventure! It’s a field in which a new provider often experiences a period of adjustment – adjusting to using her knowledge and skills in a new way, adjusting to working in a variety of natural environments, and adjusting to coaching caregivers instead of working directly with the child for the whole session. To help these newbies, or help those of you who are training and supporting them, check out this top 10 list to make sure that those entering our field are well-prepared!
Top 10 “Need to Knows”
10 – Family-centered practice is not the same as teaching in a classroom or doing therapy in a clinic. You will use your skills differently when supporting a child’s development in early intervention – through using his/her family interactions, using their materials, intervening during their activities, all the while focusing on what is important and meaningful to them. Family-centered early intervention puts you in a collaborative role that focuses on directly supporting the caregiver as the most important team member, the person who has the greatest chance of making the biggest difference in the child’s life.
9 – Knowledge of infant and toddler development across all domains is essential. Infant and toddler development is interconnected, so regardless of your professional discipline, you must be familiar with all areas of development and how one area affects another. Early interventionists may have expertise in a particular area of development, but view a child’s development through a holistic lens.
8 – Stacking blocks is not really all that important. Many of the items on an assessment don’t really matter in the grand scheme of life; instead, it is the underlying skills and abilities that these items demonstrate that matter. It will be these underlying skills that affect a child’s functional abilities in everyday life, and that’s what you target during intervention. Learning to stack 3-5 one inch cubes should never be an IFSP outcome.
7 – How the IFSP and outcomes are written really matters. The IFSP is the family’s document and it, and the outcomes, belong to the family. As such, both should be written in language the family can understand and include their priorities and hopes for their child’s development. The IFSP and outcomes should be individualized to the child’s and family’s strengths, needs, abilities, and interests. When the IFSP and outcomes are not meaningful to a family, intervention may be less likely to be viewed as belonging to them too.
6 – You are not an island…though it might feel like that sometimes. Being an EI service provider often means long hours traveling from visit to visit, by yourself. Keeping in touch with your team members is key to providing well-coordinated intervention. It’s also important for your own professional growth and health too.Ask questions, join other’s visits, and seek out opportunities for teaming.
5 – ALL children learn during everyday routines and interactions with their caregivers and the environment. It’s up to you to help families identify the natural routines and interactions that offer (or could offer) the child opportunities to learn and grow. Children with delays and disabilities often need additional support to take advantage of all of the learning opportunities around them, which is why how you share your expertise and adapt it to the family’s unique activities is so important. Look for the opportunities and help the family seize them, because they are there.
4 – Knowledge of intervention strategies and how to adapt them to address a child’s strengths, interests and needs is pivotal…but how you SHARE it matters too. No, you’re not expected to turn the parent into a therapist or teacher. You are expected to share your expertise in ways that boost the parent’s knowledge and confidence with facilitating her child’s development. A good interventionist adapts his knowledge to fit the situation, then skillfully shares it so that the parent knows what she needs to know to help her child everyday.
3 – For infants & toddlers, coaching and collaborating with parents is more effective than directly teaching the child. You will teach adults too! You may have taken this job because you love babies, but be prepared – a lot of what you will do will involve teaching and coaching the child’s caregivers. Familiarize yourself with adult learning and develop your coaching skills because if you really want to be effective, you must embrace the fact that what you do during the visit only matters if the caregiver is prepared to use what she learned, between visits when you aren’t there.
2 – The real intervention happens between visits. Most child learning will occur between visits, so the intervention visit should be used as a practice session for the caregiver and child. Help them practice using intervention strategies during the visit then problem-solve and plan for how they will use them between visits, during similar and different routines. Focusing on this “other” time, between visits, is key to successful intervention, because all of that “other” time is really what matters.
1 – Early intervention – what you do – is important! You’ve chosen to enter a field of infinite possibilities. It’s an exciting time to be in early intervention because we are in the midst of learning about the impact of this work and how to do it most effectively. You never know when something you teach a family will have an impact on them for the rest of the child’s life. That’s an awesome responsibilities, and a golden opportunity. Enjoy it!
What other “need to knows” would you add to this list?
Share your thoughts in the comments below! Now go forth and conquer the magical world of early intervention!