Sunday, February 21, 2010

Early Intervention

There is no doubt that the first few years of a child’s life are a particularly sensitive period in the process of development. Here a foundation is laid for the childhood and beyond for cognitive functioning; behavioral, social, and self-regulatory capacities; and physical health. During this period, a child's developmental abilities are evaluated and if necessary, the child is guided to receive therapy or other types of early intervention.

Early Intervention is a process of assessment and therapy provided to children, especially those younger than age 6, to facilitate normal cognitive and emotional development and to prevent developmental disability or delay.” It can be both remedial and preventive in nature. The aim is manifold- to enhance the child's development, to provide support and assistance to the family, and to maximize the child's and family's benefit to society

It can result in parents having improved attitudes about themselves and their child, improved information and skills for teaching their child, and more release time for leisure and employment. Parents of intellectually gifted preschoolers also need early services so that they may better provide the supportive and nourishing environment needed by the child.

Major Developmental Areas where Early Intervention helps:

· Physical development -a child's ability to move, see and hear
· Language and speech development -a child's ability to talk and communicate
· Social and emotional development -a child's ability to play, interact and relate to others
· Adaptive development -a child's ability to handle self-care functions, such as feeding and dressing
· Cognitive development -a child's ability to think and learn

Some Professionals that will formulate the Remediation Program
· Developmental teachers/ Special Educators
· Occupational therapists/ Physical therapists
· Psychologists/Psychiatrists
· Speech and language pathologist/audiologists

Diagnosis – The First Step
Identification of children who need and can benefit from early intervention is important.Diagnostic hunting by parents is now on the rise. Schools are also reporting the gaps they see in the child’s development. There are several varieties of diagnostic conditions that can possibly affect children in this age group. However multiple issues can coexist at various levels and within different degrees. Eg. a child with emotional and behavioral disorders might show associated learning and attention disorders.

Thus it becomes important to get an ‘intelligent’ diagnosis that takes into account such overlapping layers and also take appropriate decisions about a primary condition vs. other associated features displayed. An accurate diagnosis is a prelude to planning the right program for intervention. The diagnostic label provides both a target and a direction for the program.

However, parents must guard against getting carried away in finding the ‘right’ label for their child. A search for a diagnostic confirmation will only result in loss of precious time. Schools also must not discount the child’s strengths if he/she has been diagnosed with any disability. Tagging the child with all features of a diagnosis will put the intervention program on a wrong track. A child with hearing impairment may be a loner or shy away from his peers due to his inability to communicate, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he has impairment in social interaction, a feature of Autism.

Family Involvement - Vital Element of Early Intervention Success
One of the most powerful ways to achieve maximum and quick results is to extend home based training programs from professionals to parents and caregivers.
Parents of children with a disability undergo a variety of psychological reactions like shock, shame, guilt, denial and ambivalence. It is important to accept the disability at the earliest, to embark on an intervention program. While therapists and other specialists who work with your child are considered experts in their fields, they are not the most important elements of early intervention. It’s the parents. Being informed, taking counseling support, joining parent support groups can all give you a clear perspective of the situation you and your child are in. Many of the conditions diagnosed are fairly reversible given early identification and intervention measures, particularly if your child is diagnosed ‘at risk’.

Parents have a greater investment in their child both in terms of time and emotional attachment. While professionals can bring their experience and technical knowledge, parents can provide valuable information about the child’s behavior, interests, temperament etc and also have greater physical and psychological proximity. When parents practice the techniques taught in therapy at home, it aids in the child's ability to improve. Studies have shown that when parents are not involved, therapy takes longer and the child has to work harder.

Schools and Caregivers – Get the basics right!
Helping a child develop an optimistic outlook can be one of the greatest gifts a parent can give. Empowering a child with the required education, independence, increased self esteem and hence ready to face the world is the greatest service schools can provide.

Nowadays infants and children as young as 2 years are being sent to crèches and play homes due to various reasons like parental expectations, nuclear families, and working parents. Many of these play homes are housed in small, diminutive and enclosed spaces giving almost no opportunity to develop their motor skills. Readiness skills for various tasks required in school are also not developed due to untrained staff, ignorance of scientifically proven techniques, lack of a governing body etc.

While infants do not get extensive practice on pre-walking activities, language development etc., children at the tender age of 2.5 yrs are expected to do various fine motor and concentration demanding activities like writing. These children surely do badly on reading and writing tasks and then get diagnosed under various heads. Eg. ‘Motor-coordination disorders’, attention issues, hyperactivity etc.

Therefore it is mandatory that all preschoolers go through a rigorous training on all nursery level motor and pre-academic activities.

Gifted Children and children with developmental delays/disabilities need special educational services and can be held back in school or need more social services later in life. Providing early intervention can not only decrease the chances of this but also increase the chances of completing high school and attending college, increase scores on achievement tests and decrease anti-social and delinquent behaviors
Chetana Keni

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