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Top 10 “Need to Knows” for New & Future Early Interventionists

Entering the field of early intervention can be a great adventure! It’s a field in which a new provider often experiences a period of adjustment – shutterstock_245600641adjusting to using her knowledge and skills in a new way, adjusting to working in a variety of natural environments, and adjusting to coaching caregivers instead of working directly with the child for the whole session. To help these newbies, or help those of you who are training and supporting them, check out this top 10 list to make sure that those entering our field are well-prepared!

Top 10 “Need to Knows”

10 – Family-centered practice is not the same as teaching in a classroom or doing therapy in a clinic. You will use your skills differently when supporting a child’s development in early intervention – through using  his/her family interactions, using their materials, intervening during their activities, all the while focusing on what is important and meaningful to them. Family-centered early intervention puts you in a collaborative role that focuses on directly supporting the caregiver as the most important team member, the person who has the greatest chance of making the biggest difference in the child’s life.

9 – Knowledge of infant and toddler development across all domains is essential. Infant and toddler development is interconnected, so regardless of your professional discipline, you must be familiar with all areas of development and how one area affects another. Early interventionists may have expertise in a particular area of development, but view a child’s development through a holistic lens.

8 – Stacking blocks is not really all that important. Many of the items on an assessment don’t really matter in the grand scheme of life; instead, it is the underlying skills and abilities that these items demonstrate that matter. It will be these underlying skills that affect a child’s functional abilities in everyday life, and that’s what you target during intervention. Learning to stack 3-5 one inch cubes should never be an IFSP outcome.

7 – How the IFSP and outcomes are written really matters. The IFSP is the family’s document and it, and the outcomes, belong to the family. As such, both should be written in language the family can understand and include their priorities and hopes for their child’s development. The IFSP and outcomes should be individualized to the child’s and family’s strengths, needs, abilities, and interests. When the IFSP and outcomes are not meaningful to a family, intervention may be less likely to be viewed as belonging to them too.

6 – You are not an island…though it might feel like that sometimes. Being an EI service provider often means long hours traveling from visit to visit, by yourself. Keeping in touch with your team members is key to providing well-coordinated intervention. It’s also important for your own professional growth and health too.Ask questions, join other’s visits, and seek out opportunities for teaming.

5 – ALL children learn during everyday routines and interactions with their caregivers and the environment. It’s up to you to help families identify the natural routines and interactions that offer (or could offer) the child opportunities to learn and grow. Children with delays and disabilities often need additional support to take advantage of all of the learning opportunities around them, which is why how you share your expertise and adapt it to the family’s unique activities is so important. Look for the opportunities and help the family seize them, because they are there.

4 – Knowledge of intervention strategies and how to adapt them to address a child’s strengths, interests and needs is pivotal…but how you SHARE it matters too. No, you’re not expected to turn the parent into a therapist or teacher. You are expected to share your expertise in ways that boost the parent’s knowledge and confidence with facilitating her child’s development. A good interventionist adapts his knowledge to fit the situation, then skillfully shares it so that the parent knows what she needs to know to help her child everyday.

3 – For infants & toddlers, coaching and collaborating with parents is more effective than directly teaching the child. You will teach adults too! You may have taken this job because you love babies, but be prepared – a lot of what you will do will involve teaching and coaching the child’s caregivers. Familiarize yourself with adult learning and develop your coaching skills because if you really want to be effective, you must embrace the fact that what you do during the visit only matters if the caregiver is prepared to use what she learned, between visits when you aren’t there.

2 – The real intervention happens between visits. Most child learning will occur between visits, so the intervention visit should be used as a practice session for the caregiver and child. Help them practice using intervention strategies during the visit then problem-solve and plan for how they will use them between visits, during similar and different routines. Focusing on this “other” time, between visits, is key to successful intervention, because all of that “other” time is really what matters.

1 – Early intervention – what you do – is important! You’ve chosen to enter a field of infinite possibilities. It’s an exciting time to be in early intervention because we are in the midst of learning about the impact of this work and how to do it most effectively. You never know when something you teach a family will have an impact on them for the rest of the child’s life. That’s an awesome responsibilities, and a golden opportunity. Enjoy it!

What other “need to knows” would you add to this list?

Share your thoughts in the comments below! Now go forth and conquer the magical world of early intervention!

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21 Comments to “Top 10 “Need to Knows” for New & Future Early Interventionists”

  1. I think the another most important skill is you must have some good organizational and time management skills, without it you may miss deadlines, lose an important piece of paper. The second skill is document, document and document everything you do again this helps with the paper trail and can help for example if a parent said “You did not call me to reschedule”, you have the documentation on the log stating that you indeed call the parent.

    • Great ideas, Michelle! Time management and staying organized is absolutely a must for early interventionists, what with so many federal, state, and local agency requirements. As you describe, it’s also a protection for both you and the family. Thanks for adding to the list!

  2. Wow, Dana – I’m a bit overwhelmed at how amazing this is and all the potential ways to utilize it! Entire trainings could be built around these ten points and the ideas for embedding them into existing opportunities are endless. Pre-service preparation, states’ system level entry/foundational training, orientation for new service coordinators and providers at their agency/program are just a few that jump out at you! Thanks for another great resource and for the energy it creates to want to share it in the field!

    • Thanks Amy! Your posts always make my day. 🙂 I’m so glad you see so many possibilities for this info. I agree that this could be used for preservice and inservice training. I pulled this top 10 from a workshop I did with faculty in Michigan. For that one, I shared lots of free online PD resources to teach each concept too. One of these days, I’ll get that handout with all of the links up on the VEIPD site. Keep me posted if you decide to use this info with your folks in Illinois. Maybe we can collaborate somehow? That would be lots of fun!

  3. Dana,
    New or future or “old” Early Interventionists… great reminder to us “old folks”. Totally gonna share!

  4. Love this! I want to use this with Child and Family Studies students, interns, Graduate Assistants, as well as our staff who are well-seasoned, medium basted AND the baby chicks. Great job!

    Rita Ross, Director
    ECU CDSA

    • That’s wonderful to hear, Rita! Please keep me posted on how it goes with using this info and if you have any feedback from your folks, that’s always welcome. Your descriptions of staff as “well-seasoned, medium basted, and the baby chicks” made me laugh outloud! 🙂

  5. I think one more thing to keep in mind is that learning should never stop! Not just for children, but for ourselves as well. There are countless opportunities for us to broaden our horizons and learn from the people and things around us, we’re never too old to stop learning.

    • Well said, Sarah! I couldn’t agree more! Do you have any websites or other resources for ongoing professional development that you could recommend for new and future EIs?

  6. This list is great! As a future SLP, this is very helpful in thinking about a future career in EI. As a new clinician, I think it’s important to practice how to say things to parents in a way that does not use jargon or phrases that might not be familiar to parents and families. Straight out of school, it’s easy to explain things in a technical way as we have done for classes and tests. However, explaining these sometimes complicated concepts to parents in a way that they can understand and relate to takes some practice. Therefore, I think it is important to practice explaining specific concepts before speaking with parents, as this can help relay information better, as mentioned above.

    • I love the idea of practicing your explanations before you talk to parents, Lindsey! I used to do that – even write them down – when I was a new EI so that I had my thoughts organized. This was particularly helpful when thinking about assessment results or preparing to discuss something that may be difficult for a family to hear (like when you suspect the child has a diagnosed condition). Good luck in your future work!

  7. I really enjoyed this list and I think maybe another thing to add to it could be that the early interventionists should always support the family and the goals that they want their child to accomplish. I think that that this is a fairly obvious “need to know” but also one that people should be reminded of. Some people may want a child to accomplish a certain goal, but the family might have a different goal that they really want their child to meet as well. I believe that It is very important for the EI to prioritize those first.

    • Great point, Emily! Yes, prioritizing what is important to the family related to their child’s development is so important! It’s what lays the foundation for a meaningful IFSP. It is also vital to building a true, equal parent-professional partnership. Thanks for the reminder!

  8. I can only speculate as I am currently an undergraduate pursuing a bachelors along with a certificate in Early Childhood Intervention. However, from my class this semester as well as my experience working with kids and nonprofits I believe that ECI specialists need to remember that parents are the true experts on their children. Although the ECI is the expert on child development, they must prioritize what the parent wants to prioritize for the IFSP and for the intervention services. This support will create a more involved parent and ultimately better child outcomes.

    • Well said! Yes, there must be a balance, sort of a mixing of what we all bring to the table. The parent knows more about the child and the family than anyone else on the team. That is their area of expertise, even though they may not really feel like an “expert” with a new baby or very young child!

  9. I completely agree with all of these skills. Especially when the parents are given the tools to help their child progress between visits. I believe that parents should be given the tools and confidence to help their child progress. After all, they are the ones who know their children the best and they know what works best for their child.

    • Yes, remembering that the really important intervention happens between visits, when you won’t be there, is a point of view to always keep in mind. It really can change how you do early intervention!

  10. There are two main things that jump out at me from the list. One is that you are not alone. The no man is an island principle. I have actually found to think so is detrimental and shows no humility. The other is that it is how something is said, as well as what is said. Edifying another human being can be hard to do. In edifying parents, it is sometimes even more difficult.

    • Yes, so true. I think both points you noticed really emphasize collaboration – we do this work better when we remember and lean on our team. That’s so true when we support families too as they adjust and intervene with their child. Supporting families through change can be difficult, but fortunately we don’t have to do it alone.

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