What is Early Intervention?

Updated: Oct 27, 2020

Written by Dr. Emily Stefan, PT, DPT


Here at Everyday Kids, we offer physical therapy services to children from birth to age 21. We can provide these services at Everyday Kids Community Center or in the child's home. You may be wondering what kind of goals we work towards during physical therapy with children. In physical therapy, we often address gross motor milestones, asymmetries, weakness, coordination, pain, or recent injury. If you think your child might benefit from physical therapy, give us a call so we can set up an evaluation! If you're not sure, call or send us a message and we will be able to help you out! Due to the uncertainty of COVID-19, we are also offering teletherapy services, where your child can be seen virtually!


Everyday Kids also works with local CDSAs (Children's Developmental Services Agencies), who provides early intervention services to kids aged 0-3. You may be wondering what early intervention means, and that's why I'm here- to help out!


Early intervention is a program that provides supports and services for kids under the age of 3. Supports and services include (but are not limited to) physical therapy (PT), occupational therapy (OT), speech therapy, family support, and assistive technology. Early intervention provides services in the natural environment, which may be their home, daycare, or community settings such as a playground and play spaces such as Everyday Kids Community Center!


You may wonder, why the natural environment? There has been extensive research that shows that children learn best when they are in their natural environment. See all of this research below that was summarized by beearly.nc.gov, available at this link.


Children with and without developmental disabilities learn from each other (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 2000).
Children with disabilities make more progress in language and social skills in inclusive settings than in segregated settings apart from chil- dren without disabilities (Buysse & Bailey, 1993).
Children learn best when they can practice skills in the settings and within the activities in which they typically would use those same skills rather than in contrived learning situations that may not represent real life challenges. Similarly, many naturally occurring routines can serve as development-enhancing opportunities, and research has shown that these opportunities optimize learning. In other words, providing early intervention services within the child’s typical daily living activities increases the number of learning opportunities and enhances the mean- ingfulness of what is learned. (See, for example: Bronfenbrenner, 1992; Cipani & Spooner, 1997; Cripe, Hanline, & Dailey, 1997; Dunst, 2001; Gallimore, Weisner, Bernheimer, Guthrie, & Nihira, 1993).
Children are more likely to develop functional skills in natural settings that they can generalize to other situations enabling them to cope with a range of changing environmental demands (Bricker & Cripe, 1992; Hart & Risley, 1995).
The progress of children with typical development is not impeded by the inclusion of children with disabilities in their setting (Buysse & Bailey, 1993). In fact, experience in an inclusive classroom is associated with increases in children’s understanding of disabilities (Diamond, Hestenes, Carpenter, & Innes, 1997).
Parents who are involved actively as team members in their child’s early intervention feel empowered to enhance the development of their children. Early intervention services that are relevant to the lives of families have been found to reduce family stress (see, for example: Al- len & Petr, 1996; Pearl, 1993; Thompson, Lobb, Elling, Herman, Jurkie- wicz, & Hulleza, 1997).
Parents of typically developing children perceive a variety of benefits of enrollment in inclusive early childhood programs that serve children both with and without disabilities. They report that their child is more aware of and responsive to the needs of others and develops acceptance of diversity in others (Peck, Carlson, & Helmstetter, 1992).

Early Intervention encourages a coaching model, in which the therapist is the coach to the caregiver. As a physical therapy in the early intervention world, my sessions usually look like this: I treat a child for 40-45 minutes so that I can examine the best way to teach a skill, then I educate the parent on activities to work on at home, how to incorporate them into their daily routine, and I have them try it while I am there. At the next session, I ask what went well and we problem solve what was not working in the past week.


We are encouraged to use items that are in the home, and not to bring anything extra inside the home unless they get to keep it, like a donation. Because of this, therapist's must be creative and use lots of resources! I use stools and chairs instead of therapy benches, my lap instead of physioballs (yoga balls), and pillows instead of Air-ex or balance pads! If there is something I feel that a family would really benefit from, like an activity table or push walker toy, I keep a stash of donations in my car and garage and will donate equipment for them to keep. Local CDSAs also have toys and equipment that they are willing to donate to families while they are part of the early intervention program.


Does my child qualify for early intervention services?

Any child under the age of 3 with developmental delay or an established condition qualifies for early intervention services. To see what qualifies as a developmental delay or established condition, check out this page. The CDSA will determine through interviews and observation whether or not your child is eligible for services.


Who can refer my child to this program?

YOU CAN! That's what's really cool about early intervention. If you notice a concern, you can refer your child to early intervention without jumping through tons of hoops! Physicians, hospitals, and child care programs can also refer your child for services. If you would like to make a referral, contact your local CDSA. There are different CDSAs for different counties. Here is the NC CDSA directory.


Yes, this IS covered by insurance! Medicaid covers PT, OT, speech, equipment, procedures and more. Third party insurances may have a co-pay. The CDSA also has a sliding fee scale so that services are affordable for EVERYONE. So if you're not sure about the price, contact your local CDSA and they will help guide you through the payment process.


Check out my Instagram post here, where I display my incredible acting skills to help explain early intervention in a fun and informing way!


What questions do you still have about early intervention? Do we have any families or caregivers reading this post that are currently part of an early intervention program? If so, please let us know your experience!


Disclaimer* Keep in mind that early intervention differs from state-to-state, and I wrote this to educate about NC early intervention programs. If you live in a different state, please refer to your state's early intervention website to learn more. If you need help finding this, feel free to reach out to me.



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