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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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33 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

    • 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.

  11. Lesson 8 touched on things that really stood out to me. Stacking blocks is really not all that important in the grand scheme of things. This simple idea reminds you as a provider that you are trying to help improve the lives of the children you work with, not just check things off of a list. Helping improve someone’s quality of life is specific to that child, and can look like so many different things.

    • Yes, our goal is to help children become active daily participants. I always think of the checklists we complete as adults at the doctor. When I am going to the doctor for a check-up or a specific issue, you fill out a form that reviews various symptoms. While these symptoms are important, the questions the doctor asks me in the room about how it may impact my functioning at work or at home is most important. This also makes me feel like the doctor is actually listening to me versus trying to solve a problem. Families are the same way. They want their child to engage with them when they go out into the community or at home during simple routines. You are absolutely right it may look different based on the individualization of each child and family.

  12. One important “need to know” should be awareness of adult learning. Adults learn very differently than children. Once the EI leaves, it’s up to the parents to practice those skills with their child. If we focus on what the parent thinks is a priority for their child, the parent will have more motivation to practice the skill. Giving them time to practice the skill and providing feedback is also very important.

    • This is a very valid point. Understanding adult learning styles are highly important to help ensure there is carryover throughout the child’s day. I used to work with one mother who visually needed reminders. She would set-up little post-it notes to help cue her during different routines in various rooms of the house until she felt more confident. This mother felt like she provided more learning opportunities for her child because she had the visual cues which gave her more time to practice.

  13. As a future early interventionist, I think it’s important to remember that no child is the same. Two children same age, gender, symptoms, and diagnoses can have completely different outcomes. Because of this every case should be approached appropriately and without bias from another case. There is a difference between using similar experiences to work on a case and build upon them and coming in with a certain mindset on the way a different child’s case should be handled based on similar diagnoses.

    • Great point. Dynamic Systems Theory by Esther Thelen is a more recent theoretical approach. When I was in school, we learned about nature versus nurture. Dynamic Systems Theory shows the continuous interplay of nature and nurture that changes a system over time. There are so many dynamics in a child’s life. The stress of one family may be different than another which can greatly impact the priorities for each family. I always like to think of children as snowflakes because each one is unique.

  14. This is a great list! One thing I would add is that it’s important to not push families into doing anything they aren’t ready for yet, even if you know it would be helpful. It’s hard to raise a child who needs intervention, and everyone goes through the process at their own pace. It’s also hard to know what would be best for a child and not be able to do anything about it, but you can’t impose your own opinion too much. On the other hand, if a family has previously denied a service, it could be helpful to give them gentle reminders after some time has passed so they know the service is still available to them if they change their mind.

    • Biases are something we should always be aware of at all times. You are right and families may be at different phases in their own process. Some families are experiencing a loss of the typically developing child they envisioned throughout pregnancy. Some families love their child so much but also experience shame when they are alongside other children progressing more than their child. This is something to always be mindful of especially when providing services out in the community. I had one family who did not want any assistive technology devices. Their child was two years old and working on rolling over. Mom did not want to be seen with any equipment that would make her child look different. We have to remain respectful and aware of the caregiver’s needs as well. Gentle reminders are great because sometimes a family has to hear something numerous times before they may be ready and that is okay.

  15. I think it is important for a future early interventionist to know the importance of constantly seeking to learn more. This includes gaining knowledge about new research-based practices so you can provide the best interventions, from each family because they are all so unique, about yourself because knowing yourself enables you to be a better service provider, and from other health professionals.

    • Yes, that’s one of the things that I love about early intervention! It is still a relatively young field which is continuing to grow. We are in the midst of defining our field’s evidence-based practices so there is always much to learn!

  16. Very useful tips! I do think learning about the family’s values and culture is important and could have its separate category. Doing so will allow the interventionists to put things into perspective and learn more about the family’s needs and how big of a priority it is.

  17. I think one of the most important skills for a future interventionist is communication, and knowing when to ask for help. Asking questions might not seem like a “skill,” but especially for someone new, it can be the most important. Guidance along with research can help you be fully prepared to meet with the family and provide the best service possible. As others have said, you are not alone, and using all of the resources around you is a huge key for success.

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