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Benefits of Early Intervention

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Importance of early intervention by Melissa Idelson

Raising a developmentally and emotionally healthy child – one who is destined to become a productive member of their community and who thrives on the playground, in the classroom and in social relationships – is what all parents and teachers desire. When struggles arise on the journey of development and learning, a child’s behavior is often the first sign of stress – one that signals a broader series of factors affecting his or her ability to thrive.

Thriving kids have the opportunity to grow into thriving adults and children who have the ability to experience success and achievement go on to desire more success and achievement. The learning and developmental cycle is self-perpetuating. However, some children who struggle to play, make friends and easily communicate often underachieve and, in turn, come to have low expectations as to what is possible for them. This is a heartbreaking dynamic – one in which a child is not able to reach his or her personal potential due to developmental and learning issues that often can be effectively treated and assisted if the proper intervention is available to them at an early age.

Developmental Delays: The Facts

Sensory Processing

Learning success is a tree with many branches that has its roots in basic neurological processes – sensory processing being critical. Through sensory processing, our brains take in sensory input and integrate this information for use in multiple areas of cognitive, social and behavioral growth and functioning. Sensory processing enables us to act appropriately within our environment to achieve increasingly complex, goal-directed actions. It controls motor skill development, focus and attention, and social interaction. It’s an essential “hard-wiring” for our brains and neurological make-up that can sometimes need fine-tuning.

If a child has a deficit in one of these processing functions, it can delay development of other social, emotional, physical and cognitive processes and impair the progress of critical social and learning skills. A child with sensory processing issues may need occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, educational therapy, behavioral therapy, play therapy, family therapy – or a combination of all disciplines. And it’s critical to assess a child with these issues early in the process so that they can receive life-changing intervention that can make a world of difference in their developmental, emotional and social progress. If a child is developmentally delayed, he or she often does not have the social skills to develop peer relationships, or may exhibit behaviors that alienate others. When this is the case, the child gets anxious and his or her self-esteem, sadly, can suffer greatly.

Assessment is the framework for determining each child’s specific needs. The assessment process should provide a standardized and functional historical measurement of a child’s strengths and challenges, related to development and learning.  Observing a child to understand his or her motivation, cooperation, and behavior during the evaluation is very important. Classroom consultations should be incorporated as needed, coupled with the results of a child’s test scores.

The Whole Brain/Whole Child Approach

Treating the “whole child” – and treating him early – is critical to developmental and learning success. But most kids with developmental delays don’t need one thing – they need several things. And working unilaterally, clinicians don’t have the same success as when they’re working as part of an inter-professional treatment team. But often, therapists don’t have this opportunity. At Child Success Foundation, we make it possible for the child to receive support from an interventional team that subscribes to the “whole child” approach, where each child gets a customized treatment plan based on a comprehensive assessment, and has access to an interdisciplinary team that provides a collaborative, community-based model.

While delayed motor skills are often the first sign of a problem, auditory processing, visual-spatial processing, language processing and executive function are all evaluated. Once a child’s unique developmental profile is established, the right team of clinicians – deploying the right therapies in the right combination – can treat the whole brain to get a child on track. This team can include collaborations with neuropsychologists, developmental pediatricians, clinical psychologists, developmental optometrists, and behavioral specialists. When sensory processing disorders are addressed in this comprehensive way, the child develops the essential qualities for learning success.

Funding for Therapy: The Facts

Through the years, legislation has been passed at the national, state and county level that enables support for kids with disabilities and their parents. While there are some resources for parents from federal and state programs – including parental learning opportunities, parent-to-parent support, and advocacy – there are few funds available for actual delivery of therapy when children fall in the middle of diagnostic parameters (somewhere between moderate and severe) and when their sensory processing issues are difficult to accurately identify.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

In 1975, Congress passed Public Law 94-142 (Education of All Handicapped Children Act), now called IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). IDEA governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education and related services to more than 6.5 million eligible infants, toddlers, children and youth with disabilities. In 2013, budget cuts due to the federal sequester decimated the IDEA program. California lost $62,855,318 and 759 jobs dedicated to advancing these programs – and the kids in need of evaluation and treatment options are the ones who have unfortunately suffered.

IDEA requires that parents participate in the team that discusses the child’s learning needs and determines if the school should conduct a comprehensive evaluation if it is suspected that the child has a learning disability. However, not every child with a disability may qualify for special education services. In order to be eligible for these services, the student must both have a disability and need special education in order to make progress in school to receive benefits from the general educational program.

Section 504

Section 504 is a broad civil rights law which protects the rights of individuals with disabilities in any agency, school or institution receiving federal funds to provide persons with disabilities, to the greatest extent possible, an opportunity to fully participate with their peers. Middle and high school students make up a larger percentage of those served by Section 504 than elementary students. ADHD was the most common basis for a Section 504 plan. Approximately 1.2% of the K-12 school population is eligible for Section 504 programs – again leaving many affected children and families without appropriate coverage options for the therapy they need at the right juncture in their development.

With the right support, parents can help children unlock their strengths and reach their full potential. With state-of-the-art technology, personalized resources, free daily access to experts, a secure online community, practical tips and more, Understood aims to be that support.

Team of Advocates for Special Kids (TASK)

In Southern California, the Team of Advocates for Special Kids (TASK) serves families of children aged birth to 26 years of age under IDEA and other systems mandated to provide services to individuals with disabilities. As a federally-funded Parent Training and Information Center, TASK is part of a national network of centers providing similar services.

TASK promotes the belief that well-informed parents are the best advocates for their child. In order to achieve that partnership, TASK provides parent-to-parent support, one-on-one individualized telephone assistance and education and training on the educational rights of parents and their children with disabilities so they can access, in a positive manner, the education, health and social services systems and advocate at Individual Education Plan meetings in the schools. While it is an invaluable resource for parents, TASK also does not provide funds for therapy.

First 5 L.A.

First 5 L.A. was established in 1998 after California voters approved Proposition 10, an effort to fund health, safety and early education programs for children prenatal to age five through revenue from tax on tobacco products. Its mission is to increase the number of Los Angeles County children ages birth to age five who are physically and emotionally healthy, ready to learn, and safe from harm. First 5 L.A. delivers parent education and advocacy in building public support for targeted programs that address the needs of young children and their families.

Getting Help through School Districts

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), School Districts are required to develop a personalized plan for every school-aged child who qualifies as having one of the 13 disabilities identified by IDEA. This Individual Education Program (IEP) is a written program designed to meet the unique needs of a single child. It includes audiology, counseling, nursing services, occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy, and transportation related to these services. Per IDEA regulations, School Districts provides all required services as specified on a child’s IEP at no cost to parents.

The qualification process for IEP is complex and can take up to 60 days to complete. It also requires a referral, an evaluation, and determination of qualification by an IEP team. However, not every child with a disability may qualify for special education services. In order to be eligible for these services, the student must both have a disability and, as a result of that disability, need special education in order to make progress in school and in order to receive benefit from the general educational program.

The Division of Special Education provides a range of program and related services to students found eligible for special education, called Designated Instructional Services (DIS). Service and support is also provided to schools and parents in a variety of areas included, but not limited to:

  • Adapted Physical Education(APE)
  • Assistive Technology (AT)
  • Occupational Therapy (OT)
  • Physical Therapy (PT)
  • Pupil Counseling (PCU) and Educationally Related Mental Health Services (ERMHS)

Provisions within IDEA also address the use of Response to Intervention (RTI) for school-age children, with a particular focus on children in kindergarten through third grade. RTI is designed to prevent, detect and address children’s learning difficulties as early as possible, and helps teachers organize instructional approaches from least to most intensive, based on a child’s learning needs. It involves ongoing assessment through universal screening of all children, helps provide strategic support for some children through small-group interventions and activities involving targeted skills, and provides intensive support for a few children. RTI in early childhood is intended to complement, not replace, existing special education services for children with identified disabilities.


  • CDC estimates that about 1 in 88 children has been identified with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). From 2002-2008, this percentage increased by 78%.
  • In 2007, CDC’s ADDM Network first reported that about 1 in 150 children had an ASD (based on 2002 data from 14 communities). Then, in 2009, the ADDM Network reported that 1 in 110 children had an ASD (based on 2006 data from 11 communities). This means that the estimated prevalence of ASDs increased 23% during 2006 to 2008 and 78% during 2002 to 2008.


  • The American Psychiatric Association states in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) that 5% of children have ADHD. However, studies in the U.S. have estimated higher rates in community samples. As reported by parents, more than 1 in 10 (11%) US school-aged children had received an ADHD diagnosis by a health care provider by 2011. These 6.4 million children include 1 in 5 high school boys and 1 in 11 high school girls.

Speech Delays

  • According to the National Center for Education Statistics, approximately 3% of students have been treated for speech delays/impairments, as reported for 2009-2010.

Learning Disorders

  • 35% of students identified with learning disabilities drop out of high school. This is twice the rate of their non-disabled peers (does not include the students who are not identified and drop out).
  • 50% of juvenile delinquents tested were found to have undetected learning disabilities.
  • Up to 60% of adolescents in treatment for substance abuse have learning disabilities.
  • 62% of learning disabled students were unemployed one year after graduation.
  • 50% of females with learning disabilities will be mothers (many of them single) within 3-5 years of leaving high school.
Child Success Foundation
Child Success Foundation
Child Success Foundation