Why Early Intervention is Important

Working as a Pediatric Occupational Therapist, I meet children across all ages, from 0 to 18 years old.  Probably a big chunk are kids 3 to 5 years old.  I won’t deny that this is probably my favorite age range to treat. Early intervention encompasses this range and younger.

Why, you ask.

As I have observed, most 3- to 5-year-olds have explored their surroundings enough so they can be a wonder to watch while playing.  Some of them are also beginning to express themselves in ways they’ve learned how.  It is our duty to develop, correct, or enhance these ways, while it is early to do so.

Because of this, it is generally more ideal to start them even younger.  Starting them young gives you and your child the edge to develop skills and learn behaviors more appropriately.  Receiving therapy under the age of three up to around five is what we consider to be early intervention.

Who Needs Early Intervention?

In the Philippines, babies and kids with early-identified special needs are often referred to a Developmental Pediatrician, Pediatric Neurologists, Rehabilitation Doctors, and Child Psychologists, among others.  These specialists often advise the parents to see a therapist, depending on their needs.

  • Physical Therapist:  For those with concerns in positions and movement like crawling, walking, sitting, standing, and reaching.
  • Speech Pathologist and/or Audiologist:  For children with issues in hearing, talking, and swallowing.
  • Occupational Therapist: For kids with delays in their development, behavioral problems, feeding concerns, problems with using their hands, etc. 
  • Others:  I’ve seen toddlers and preschoolers undertaking Applied Behavioral Therapy and Special Education sessions as well, especially if behavior and preliteracy skills are their concerns.

Whatever the service your child is receiving, the early intervention should be family-centered.  This means that the family priorities, routines, culture, and plans should always be considered, respected, and prioritized.

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What Does Early Intervention Look Like?

Since I am an OT, I can give you a big glimpse on what goes on in an OT Early Intervention session.

In OT, the core of treatment is always about the person’s occupations.  For your toddler whose main occupation is to learn and play, then manipulation of toys, exploration of textures, pretend playing, and some age-appropriate self-care skills are included in their tasks during their therapy sessions.

Classic examples of materials used are blocks, bead, and puzzles.  Art tasks involving paint, glue, and clay are also staples in their sessions.  Doll houses, toy cars, and cook sets are there as well.  To develop independence, busy books and boards with Velcro straps and zippers also make a cameo. 

Preschoolers have the same set of activities plus concepts building since they are also going to school.  However, don’t be surprised if your OT won’t be of any help in advancing your child’s reading skills.  They would delve more on visual perceptual skills, which is a foundation in learning to read and write.  

On the other hand, expect them to give your child activities to develop their hand skills that would help them to write and work with the buttons of their uniform and zippers of their bags and pencil cases.  

Wanna learn more about fine motor skills?

Coloring, drawing, and connecting the dots are the frequent flyers of their sessions.  More complex games such as those with rules and more sequences are also beneficial to your child.  When available, your child may also be recommended to join a small group.  All these will equip them to cope better in their school and community environments.

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The youngest patient I had for early intervention was a 3-month-old baby with Down Syndrome.  Did I give him puzzles or clay?  No.  I gave him cloth books, blocks, and stacking cups to touch, feel, swipe at, reach, and grasp.  Toys with vivid colors (especially black and red) were my constant aids and his favorite!

Also, since the family only availed of OT at the time, I also made sure that the family gave him tummy time.  I gave them instruction and demonstrated to them how to stimulate transitions and movements like lying prone to supine and vice versa, and crawling.  

The Value of Early Intervention

Your child’s early years are critical.  It can dictate their health and development later in their lives.  They are born ready to learn.  Some educators compare their brain to a sponge because of their ability to absorb in the first few years of their development.  Hence, the best time to get intervention, if your child has special needs, is early and soon.

Read about brain plasticity here.

Having a child with special needs is tough and expensive.  I’ve seen how the families of my kids have struggled with their child’s issues, logistics, and treatment costs.  

Some families take the conservative route and choose to wait out their child’s issues.  “Let’s wait for him to mature a bit and see if he will refrain from throwing tantrums.”  But, in some cases, they later learn that their child’s fits have only leveled-up and more difficult to manage.

Currently, the average therapy fee is P900 per discipline, per hour.  If your child has once-a-week OT, then you must allot P4000 per month including your transportation expenses going to the therapy center.  But most of the time, these children need more than one discipline to see every week or even twice a week.  Not to mention, the additional costs at school for accommodating them.

Let me tell you that Early Intervention almost always ends up saving you time, money, and energy.  Waiting for your child to be old enough to receive therapy just makes his problem list longer and harder to manage.  Instead of developing appropriate skills, you may need to undo maladaptive behaviors first, causing the therapy program to be longer and sometimes, harder.

boys, children, reading

The adage, “Start them young” rings true for both special and typically growing children.  Give them what they need to be independent individuals soon.  Give it to them while they’re young.  

Pro-tip, when you start your child to therapy soon, you also get to learn the ropes early on.  Apply these at home and maximize the benefits of your child’s therapy program.  You get to hasten your child’s progress while strengthening your bond with him or her.

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