Early intervention (EI) offers a remarkable practice area for occupational therapy practitioners (OTPs) to aid families and young kids in their home environment.
Unlike traditional medical settings, which emphasize insurance-based reimbursement and productivity requirements, EI prioritizes the well-being of the child and family.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines EI as “the services and supports available to babies and young children with developmental delays and disabilities and their families… [which] can significantly impact a child’s ability to learn new skills, overcome challenges, and increase success in school and life.” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022)
EI services are obtainable nationwide to help infants and toddlers who have developmental issues or are at risk of developing them. Eligibility criteria vary from state to state. A team of professionals—OTPs, speech-language pathologists, physical therapists, special education teachers, and social workers—can support a family with EI services.
OTPs play a crucial role in the EI team. They help the child and family develop skills in a typical sequence, protect the child from sensory or movement experiences that detract from typical development, and promote appropriate challenges and experiences to develop skills.
Family-Centered Care Model in EI
Family-centered care is a standard practice in pediatrics and encourages parent participation through education, training, and coaching (Popova et al., 2022).
This approach may involve:
- Sharing specific information related to the child’s developmental delay
- Teaching caregivers about general developmental processes, task adaptations, & environmental modifications
- Ensuring communication that is flexible and encompasses collaboration, problem-solving, & teaching advocacy expertise
Parents benefit from involvement during EI sessions. Coaching can help them become more confident with their child. Using a collaborative model helps parents generalize new skills and strategies outside of therapy sessions and into their everyday lives.
Activities OTPs Address in Early Intervention
OTPs promote early childhood development by encouraging participation in areas of occupation (Stoffel & Schleis, 2014). This might include:
ADLs (activities of daily living):
- Feeding: Supporting children in developing self-feeding skills, recommending specific utensils and cups, & addressing sensory-related eating challenges
- Dressing: Assisting with fine motor skills needed for buttoning or zipping clothes & recommending adaptive clothing
- Self-care: Teaching strategies for toilet training, handwashing, bathing, & grooming
IADLs (instrumental activities of daily living):
- Chores: Encouraging age-appropriate tasks like stirring ingredients, setting the table, guiding children in organizing toys, or simple cleaning
- Grocery shopping and community events: Teaching self-regulation strategies for busy places such as birthday parties, parks, grocery stores, & playgrounds
- Transportation: Helping parents brainstorm ideas for safe and seamless community access, such as making a busy bag for the car or holding hands when walking
Rest & sleep:
- Establishing consistent bedtime routines & naps
- Creating a sleep-friendly environment & implementing sensory strategies
- Addressing sleep challenges (e.g., sleep disruptions, difficulty falling asleep)
- Encouraging exploration through developmentally appropriate toys & games
- Facilitating social play with siblings & parents
- Supporting imaginative play to enhance cognitive development & creativity
- Recommending toys, games, & strategies to promote skill development
- Collaborating with pre-K & daycare centers to address classroom challenges
- Developing skills necessary for school tasks like holding a crayon & drawing shapes
- Enhancing social skills through sibling play or playdates
- Teaching children & caregivers to recognize & express emotions
- Supporting the development of self-regulation & coping strategies for challenging social situations & behaviors
OTPs can help children achieve success in their early development and support caregivers in their roles by emphasizing family-centered care and collaboration.
Course From OccupationalTherapy.com: OT Services For Our Littlest Clients: Three Key Concepts Presented By Brittney Franklin MS, OTR/L
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2022, August 9). What is "early intervention"? https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/parents/states.html#textlinks
Popova, E. S., O’Brien, J. C., & Taylor, R. R. (2022). Communicating with intention: Therapist and parent perspectives of family-centered care in early intervention. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 76(5), 7605205130. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2022.049131
Stoffel, A., & Schleis, R. (2014). Frequently asked questions (FAQ): What is the role of occupational therapy in early intervention? The American Occupational Therapy Association.