Bridging the Gap, Engaging Families, Intervention Visits, Practical Strategies

Traditional vs. Collaborative EI Visits: What’s the Difference?

We know from research in early intervention that making the change to using collaborative, family-centered practices during early intervention visits continues to be challenging for EI providers. One of the reasons that this continues to be a challenge is because most of us think we are already doing it!

Parachute PlayEach of us needs to take the time to reflect on how we work with children and families and consider if what we do aligns with recommended practices in our field. If we think about our work as a “practice” then we know that our practice must grow and evolve over time. We must make a commitment to keep up with the research and learn about the most effective ideas in our field.

To help you reflect on what you are already doing and what the research in early intervention is indicating as most effective, here is a comparison of traditional vs. collaborative visits. As you read, think about your last few visits with families and consider where your practices fall on the continuum.

Continuum of EI Visits





PURPOSE Help children learn missing
skills and develop new skills
Help families learn strategies they can use to support the child’s development of functional skills in the context of natural family routines and activities 
FOCUS Intervention that occurs during
the visit
Intervention that occurs between visits during daily routines and activities 
PRIMARY INTERVENTIONIST Service Provider Parent or other caregiver 
SETTING Play on the floor Variety of home and community settings depending on the goal being addressed and the routine being targeted 
PRIMARY INTERACTIONS                  Provider-child dyad: service provider and child interact while
the parent passively observes
Provider-parent-child triad: parent and child interact while the service provider coaches the parent and provides feedback 
FORMAT FOR VISITS Provider plays with the child to
teach skills that the child is missingProvider brings toys and materials to the visit for interventionSkills are taught out of context (i.e., labeling plastic food puzzle pieces)
Parent is coached in how to encourage the development of functional skills that the child needs to participate in daily routines and activitiesToys and materials in the home are used for interventionSkills are taught in the contexts where they are needed (i.e., labels for food are learned during lunch) 
FRAMEWORK FOR VISITS Visits follow a similar framework across time and across families Each visit is unique, addressing a different routine or priority 
SCHEDULE OF VISITS Visits occur at the same time and
on the same day each week
Visits are flexible and occur at different days/times depending on the goal and routine being addressed 
HOW PARENT’S LEARNING IS SUPPORTED Provider models and discusses strategies, focusing on what can
be accomplished during the visit
Parent and provider collaborate to identify needs, plan for intervention, and practice strategies during the visitFocus is on preparing families to use strategies when the provider is not present

If you would like to read more about what early intervention looks like or doesn’t look like when recommended practices are used, check out the Seven Key Principles: Looks Like/Doesn’t Look Like (2008) document developed by the NECTAC Workgroup on Principles and Practices in Natural Environments. Find it here:



Early interventionists typically find that their practices reflect a mix of the traditional and collaborative approaches. Consider these questions as you think more about your practices:

What is one thing that you do that reflects a collaborative approach to intervention?

What are some challenges you’ve faced with implementing collaborative practices? How do you make it work?



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