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


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  • DEC Recommended Practices – Interaction (Part 1)(current)
Seal of Best Practices

When we whittle early intervention down to its core, I think it’s all about interactions. Interactions between the child and caregiver, first and foremost…interactions between the child and the environment (toys, sofa cushions, spoons and cups, buttons on the TV remote, the family dog)…interactions between the EI practitioner and caregiver that facilitate positive interactions with the child in the natural environment. See where I’m going here? It’s all related to positive, reciprocal, contingent interactions.

Translating our Super Powers

The Division for Early Childhood (DEC) Recommended Practices provide our field with a list of five interaction practices that we can use to “promote specific child outcomes” (p 14) when working with families. As early interventionists, we often have super powers related at using these practices – we know how to use our voices and language to engage children, how to observe behavior and encourage reciprocal communication, and how to help children sustain interactions and respond to the environment. Our use of our super powers won’t ever be enough, though. We have to use what we know to help others interact with the child in ways that boost development and learning. When caregivers use recommended practices for interaction, the child has more opportunities to develop social skills, communication, cognition, and independence throughout the day. Those daily interactions are what really matter.

Helping Caregivers Use the DEC Interaction Practices

Let’s consider the first three practices, which focus on promoting social and communicative interactions.

INT1. Practitioners promote the child’s social-emotional development by observing, interpreting, and responding contingently to the range of the child’s emotional expressions.

Early interventionists are great resources for caregivers in helping them observe and interpret their child’s behavior. This is especially helpful with children who communicate in ways that are harder to understand, such as children who may have autism or those with multiple disabilities. The interventionist can help the caregiver notice the child’s attempts to engage and communicate. Then, they can figure out how the caregiver can respond in ways that help the child learn the benefits of engaging others.

Example: An educator sees a child’s tendency to stroke his mother’s hair as an attempt to engage the mother and feel close to her. The mother originally found the “hair pulling” slightly annoying, but when she sees the possibility that it represents affection from her child, she can respond to the child with a warm smile and voice, encouraging rather than discouraging the interaction.

INT2. Practitioners promote the child’s social development by encouraging the child to initiate or sustain positive interactions with other children and adults during routines and activities through modeling, teaching, feedback, or other types of guided support.

Early interventionists can help caregivers seek out opportunities for the child to interact by observing typical routines, especially those that the caregiver and child enjoy together. By asking the caregiver open-ended questions (“What makes your child laugh? What do you like to do together? When do you do to spend time together? What would you like to do together?), the interventionist can identify activities to target for intervention.

Example: An occupational therapist (OT) observes the morning dressing routine, during which a mother plays peek-a-boo and tickle games with her infant. The OT coaches the mother to use an expectant look and extra wait time to facilitate her child’s engagement and teach her child how to take turns, make sounds, and perhaps pull the blanket from the mother’s face to keep the game going.

INT3. Practitioners promote the child’s communication development by observing, interpreting, responding contingently, and providing natural consequences for the child’s verbal and non-verbal communication and by using language to label and expand on the child’s requests, needs, preferences, or interests.

Rather than being the communication partner for the child for most of the visit, the interventionist can coach the caregiver in how to respond contingently, use words that are just above the child’s language level, and expand on what the child says. This works well during play and other routines.

Example: A speech-language pathologist coaches a father in how to expand a child’s gestural request for his cup to be filled with water. The child hands his cup to his father and walks away. Through modeling and practicing simple prompts, the father can learn to label the child’s request (“More water?”), hold the cup up near his own mouth to draw the child’s attention to the word being said, and wait before meeting the need so that the child has a chance to imitate the model. The father and child can then practice this interaction whenever this request is made, which is likely to be often – more often than if the therapist used this strategy 2-3 times on a single visit.

These are just a few examples of how we can implement the Interaction Recommended Practices through the caregiver-child interaction.  Our knowledge of how to facilitate interactions can translate into the strategies we share and practice with families. Using those parent-interventionist interactions to facilitate parent-child interactions in natural environments – that’s what it’s all about!

Next week, we’ll continue this discussion by looking at the next two practices, which focus on facilitating cognitive skills. In the meantime:

Why is it important that early interventionists translate these practices for use with families?

How have you use these practices on visits? With child care providers?

Share your thoughts and examples of implementing these practices by leaving a comment below!

To read more about how to implement other DEC Recommended Practices, be sure to check out the rest of this series by searching for “DEC Recommended Practices” using the search feature at the top of the page.

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