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Early Intervention: Part II

October 14, 2014

By Jennifer Eckert

Early Intervention: Part II | A young boy sits on the floor, reaching up.

Last month I wrote about the early intervention program that is required by law in every U.S. state and territory to provide services to qualifying infants or toddlers with developmental delays or disabilities. After going through the intake and evaluation process with my son, my husband and I learned he had a 33 percent delay in expressive language, and we opted to enroll him in a speech therapy program.

After attending several therapy sessions, I have the following advice for parents who want to get the most out of their child’s therapy sessions—whether they are for speech or any other type of developmental delay:

Recognize that therapy is “play.”
According to my son’s speech therapist, many parents go into the sessions expecting worksheets and an intensive drilling of skills. They may be a little surprised when the therapist pulls out a variety of toys and starts to play with the child. However, each toy and game serves two specific purposes: it grabs the child’s attention, and it relates to a specific skill.

For example, one toy my son’s therapist used was a simple coffee can with holes punched in the lid. My son was entranced as he spent the next five minutes putting different-colored straws through the holes in the lid. However, he also practiced making d-sounds as the therapist guided him to say “drop” each time a straw went in the canister and then “dump” when he poured them all out again.

Be present at therapy sessions.
If at all possible, sit in and observe multiple therapy sessions. You will soon pick up on some of the techniques the therapist uses with your child, which you can then apply on your own. I was amazed by how many simple-yet-effective communication skills I learned. For example, instead of letting my son point to the sippy cup he wanted to use each morning, I learned to prompt him so he’d have to give me a verbal response: “Do you want the blue cup or the green cup?”

Communicate with the therapist.
If you are not able to be present for therapy sessions, ask your child’s therapist to call or e-mail you after a session to provide a brief progress report. Find out what specific skill your child worked on and what accomplishments your child made. Also keep the therapist apprised of any gains or setbacks you notice in your child. This will help the therapist monitor your child’s overall progress.

For instance, after he’d completed a few speech therapy sessions, I suddenly noticed that my son was becoming much more vocal in terms of repeating what my husband and I said—without any prompting. Communicating this information to the therapist helped her determine that our son had achieved one of the goals in his development plan—unprompted imitation of language.

Practice with your child.
Just like playing an instrument or riding a bike, the main way a child makes progress with developmental skills is through practice, practice, practice. Look for ways to incorporate the techniques you observe into your child’s everyday life. My husband and I have turned elements of our son’s daily routine into opportunities for practicing speech. During diaper changes, we sing songs with repetitive phrases that he’ll repeat. At bath time, we offer him two different toys and prompt him to verbally respond with his choice. At bedtime, we read books about animals and he mimics their sounds.

I am amazed at the amount of progress my son has made in such a short amount of time, and I am grateful that the affordable services of my state’s early intervention program are available to him. I would definitely encourage parents who suspect their child has a developmental delay to take advantage of this program. It is a valuable resource that, along with parental engagement, can be the key to a child’s success.

Jennifer Eckert is a supervising editor at National Geographic Learning and a freelance writer. She lives in Chicago with her husband, son, and three cats.


Early Intervention: Part I

September 3, 2014

By Jennifer Eckert

Early Intervention: Part I | A young boy reaches for help in standing up as he crawls on the ground.

At our son’s fifteen-month check-up, the pediatrician asked my husband and me a series of questions about our son’s development: Is he walking? Check. Can he stack two blocks? Check. Does he respond when you call his name? Check. Does he have a vocabulary of at least several words, including “mama” and “dada?” Umm . . . no. Our son babbled incessantly, but my husband and I realized that we couldn’t really recognize anything he said as actual words.

While there is a wide range of what is considered “normal” in terms of speech development, our pediatrician suggested that we have our son evaluated to see if he’d qualify for speech therapy through our state’s early intervention program. Since many private insurance plans do not cover habilitative therapy, or therapy that helps a person learn skills that are not developing normally, the early intervention program can help families get affordable services.

What Is Early Intervention?
Early intervention (EI) is a system of services that helps infants and toddlers who have developmental delays or disabilities. Developmental delays include the following areas:

  • cognitive development (thinking)
  • physical development (crawling, walking)
  • communication development (talking, listening)
  • social or emotional development (playing, feeling secure)
  • adaptive development (eating, dressing)

Services are provided to a qualifying child to match his or her developmental need. These might include speech therapy, physical therapy, hearing services, or nutrition services.

Every U.S. state and territory is required by law (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) to have an early intervention program, though the specific rules and regulations can vary from state to state.

How Does My Child Qualify?
If you suspect your child has a developmental delay, either talk with your pediatrician to get a referral or locate your state’s early intervention website to find an EI office in your area. Once you’ve located your local office, you can call to request a free evaluation for your child.

While the qualification process may vary slightly from state to state, our experience with the Illinois Early Intervention Program is probably typical for most state programs: After playing a bit of phone tag with my local EI office, my husband and I were assigned a service coordinator who guided us through the evaluation process. She first met with us for an intake visit at our home to fill out a bunch of paperwork and to find out more about our son’s medical and developmental history. Then she put us in contact with a speech therapist and an occupational therapist who came to our home two weeks later for our son’s official evaluation. The two therapists asked us a series of questions and observed our son as he performed different tasks related to the different areas of development (outlined in the bulleted list above).

In the state of Illinois, a child with a delay of 30 percent or more in any developmental area qualifies for EI services. (Qualification criteria vary from state to state. For more information on your state, visit this National Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center website.) Our son showed a 33 percent delay in expressive speech, so my husband and I have opted to enroll him in a speech therapy program.

Next month I will write more about our experiences with the EI program as our son begins his weekly speech therapy sessions.

Jennifer Eckert is a supervising editor at National Geographic Learning and a freelance writer. She lives in Chicago with her husband, son, and three cats.


Stop Bullying: Promote Child Confidence

April 29, 2014

By Noralba Martinez

A young girl smiles proudly as she shows her A+ test score.

While working with families as an early childhood intervention specialist, I’ve seen children become bullies. But there are ways for parents to help their child learn to avoid acting out in negative and destructive ways. Bullies are almost always looking for control and attention. By equipping your child with the confidence and assurance he or she needs, you can prevent your child from becoming a bully.

There are many ways to boost your child’s self-esteem. Start by praising your child’s efforts, accomplishments, and desired behavior. Acknowledge the wonderful things your child does every day. It’s easy to get caught up with all of life’s challenges, but take the time to highlight the positive instead of the negative. A simple "you are so smart" can go a long way. When praised frequently, your child will believe in him or herself and feel confident to begin facing challenges. As you focus on your child’s good behavior, his or her need for negative attention will decrease.

Empower your child by giving him or her control over things that are appropriate. For example, let your child pick out clothing to wear, choose an afternoon snack, or select paint colors for an arts and crafts project.

As your child matures, giving him or her more control over other things can continue to foster confidence and independence. Confidence helps a child feel successful and eliminates the need to degrade or bully someone else.

Practice these tips to help prevent your child from bullying:

  • Role-play different social scenarios with your child and work out possible solutions together.
  • Talk to your child about his or her self-worth and unique strengths.
  • Help your child understand that he or she is in control of the outcome of any situation he or she faces.
  • Provide the necessary attention every time your child does something that you want him or her to repeat.
  • Encourage positive social-emotional development by being a role model of respect and consideration towards others.

Start using these tips today to help stop bullying. You can take small steps to build your child’s confidence so that he or she does not feel the need to make others feel bad and bully them.


Autism Awareness Month

April 3, 2014

By Jessica Vician

Autism Awareness Month

April is Autism Awareness Month, which serves as an opportunity to educate the public about Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). There are various degrees of autism, which is a brain development disorder that can cause communication and social-interaction challenges, along with some physical difficulties, depending on the severity of the disorder.

While there is no known cure for autism or ASD at this time, it is helpful to know the symptoms. If you believe your child may be autistic, note the symptoms and discuss them with your doctor. Early diagnosis can help you find an appropriate treatment sooner while also giving you the tools to modify parenting techniques as necessary. Early symptoms include:

For a detailed infographic on ASD, including how to treat it, various levels of the disorder, more symptoms, and celebrities with ASD, visit the Global Medical Education website.

Autism affects us all, even if your children are not autistic. Many of our friends and family members at YOU Parent are affected by the disorder. Research is critical to earlier diagnosis and better treatment plans, which is why we support Autism Speaks throughout the year.

During Autism Awareness Month, we support our YOU Parent staff member’s family team, Darryl’s Cheerleaders, for their annual fundraising walk in Florida. Please consider a donation to either Autism Speaks or Darryl’s Cheerleaders this year to help further research on this disorder.


Baby Talk: When and Why to Use It

March 11, 2014

By Noralba Martinez

A baby with talk bubbles says, "bow-wow," "baba," "choo-choo," and "wawa"

Babies begin communicating with us when they are born. Their cries and actions try to tell us everything they need. As babies get older, they need more things and therefore more ways to express those needs. As parents and caregivers, we teach children a mutual language to foster communication, be it English, Spanish, sign language, or another language. It all comes down to expressive communication.

Researchers call baby talk with exaggerated facial gestures “motherese” or “parentese.” This is our baby’s first introduction to communication. I used baby talk with my children when they were babies. It is a way to connect with your child and make words easy to say for him or her. For example, “wawa” means water and “baba” means bottle. As you will soon find out, your child will need to eventually know that “wawa” is not the correct name for water. So when should we stop baby talk?

Working in an early childhood intervention agency, most of the children who receive our services have a speech delay. We encourage the families enrolled in our program to model the use of language during their daily routines and to repeat words every chance they get. We also coach them to use simple words when communicating with their child.

By 12 months, a child should have a vocabulary of at least 10 words. Along with simple gestures, he or she should be able to use them to communicate his or her wants and needs. A recent study shows that baby talk is an effective way to communicate with your child. In the study, babies who heard baby talk frequently had more vocabulary words at two years of age than those who did not.

I encourage you to continue baby talk with your child until he or she begins repeating the words and using them to get his needs/wants. At that point I recommend that you correct the word without making your child feel ashamed or embarrassed. For example, if your child says, “want wawa,” you can respond with, “You want water, I will give you water,” passively correcting the word. With time, those words will be a beautiful memory of the past while your child is talking in phrases and even having conversations.

Remember, baby talk is a form of connecting and bonding with your child. Use it to introduce verbal communication and know when to begin sampling the words your child will need to communicate with others.