Off The Spectrum: Early Intervention – Not Exactly What You Think


A parent asked me, “Is it too late for my autistic teenage son to receive early intervention?” Based on the definition of early intervention, the answer could be yes. However, it’s doesn’t have to be. Let’s explore this a bit more.

According to the Centres for Disease Control (CDC), early intervention is the term used to describe the services and support available to babies and young children with developmental delays or specific health conditions. These services may include speech, occupational and physical therapy. The interventions assist in developing cognitive, communication, physical and self-help skills.

Dealing with any condition in its early stages is always crucial and beneficial. It mitigates the factors that place individuals at risk of unfortunate outcomes. Early intervention may also improve long-term developmental results and reduce the need for specialised support later in the child’s school years. In a study conducted by Harris and Handleman, it was reported that babies who received early intervention services before the age of two were far more likely to receive an inclusive educational placement in a mainstream classroom.

So the question is: What if my child is the beyond the early intervention age? It is important to note that in many countries, specifically in many states throughout America, early intervention is a service that is mandated under the Disabilities Act for babies and young children. Nevertheless, even though by definition, early intervention technically ends at age three, this doesn’t mean that an older child can’t receive similar services. It may not come under the label of “early intervention”, but there are many transition programmes that offer the same services. This should prompt a sigh of relief for parents with older children with developmental delays.

Now that we know that any child is eligible for services that early intervention provides, the more important question is: How do I know if my child needs early intervention? Over the years, I’ve found that parents have a natural proclivity to sense when something just isn’t quite right with their child. I’m not advising to let paranoia set in, but this is enough to, at least, investigate the situation. It’s a fact that every child develops at their own pace. However, there are certain milestones that should definitely be achieved by a certain age. Parents.com lists that a child may need early intervention services if they’re not:

• Crawling by 10 months

• Imitating gestures or pointing by 12 months

• Walking by 18 months

• Responding when their name is called by 10 months

• Manipulating objects, like toys, by 18 months

• Saying and understanding simple request words by 24 months

These are clear signs that must immediately be addressed.

I reiterate, every child develops at their own pace. There have been cases where a child simply developed slowly and had no need for any specialised services. However, if you suspect that your child isn’t developing as they should, seek help. Additionally, whether your child is three or 13 years old, as soon as you detect that something is delayed in their development, you must act. There are many childhood professionals and medical physicians who can guide you in the right direction to receive support for you and your child. I can’t stress enough how important early detection of any delay in your child is. Remember, even if your child is beyond the “early intervention” age, it’s still never too late. Early intervention, and therapy services in general, may look different for each child. Still, it’s imperative that it’s being received. You will give your child a chance for a more successful life.

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