What is Early Childhood Intervention and Why Is It Needed?

Early intervention (EI) is the process of developing a focused curriculum and treatment plan that is based on a thorough assessment and evaluation that fully encompassed an individual’s physical, mental, social and environmental challenged interspersed with and related to their diagnosis of a mental health disorder. By recognizing the weaknesses or challenges that a child is having with their development and actively trying to treat and change the way the body responds and reacts to the problem, early intervention has been shown to give those individuals affected with ASD the tools and abilities to responds more positively and culturally appropriately in their physical environments and in relationships with others. One reason that has been suggested for early intervention is that by helping and motivating a child to use areas of the brain that are not functioning well, new neurons and connections in the brain can be strengthened and formed. Other thoughts are that, by forcing the brain to have certain experiences, the ‘flexible’ young brain will begin to grow new connections and form new pathways towards more normal processing of information in the affected areas of the brain.

The process of early intervention should be used for all individuals that have been assessed and found to either be at risk of an autism diagnosis or are diagnosed. Another way of looking at it is that EI should be used for any individual found to have a delay in any aspect of the development process that could potentially be corrected with the use of therapy. Research suggests that the sooner… or ‘earlier’… in the child’s life that the intervention is made, the more permanent and positive change can be created in the child. How the intervention is utilized can depend on many factors including, parental or provider choice, what interventions are available, funding or lack thereof for treatment, the individual’s needs, etc… there are more than a dozen programs used for early intervention which include Floortime, Denver, SCERTS, and RDI. While these programs all have differences in how they attempt to facilitate change in the individual, the typical EI priorities usually work on forming spontaneous functional communication techniques, developing coping skills, and learning to interact and play with peers. Programs also tend to try and work on removing the motivations for negative behavior through different avenues and attempting to prevent the behavior from continuing to occur. Other samples of early intervention services that can be offered are speech or occupational therapy, assistive technology or auditory services, as well as counseling, medical or psychological services.

For a newly diagnosed child, one of the first steps is to create and develop an IFSP (Individualized Family Service Plan.) As part of that process, location(s) to begin therapy and what forms of beginning treatment should commence. Several kinds of information are incorporated in the IFSP including a rounded out examination of the child’s current development and needs, family abilities, resources, and desires, how and how much services should be provided and for how long as well as who is responsible for certain aspects of the treatment and also the goals or outcomes that are going to be focused on developing and achieving. For a newly diagnosed two year old child, an IFSP is developed and treatment usually consists of some forms of relationship development, speech or other physical therapies as well as work with interaction and self-soothing. For more newly diagnosed toddlers or babies, intervention treatment is usually performed in the home where the child knows their environment and will feel the most comfortable and open to the treatment.

It has been shown that early childhood intervention with individuals that struggle with developmental delays can create more positive social and future life outcomes. if you or a family member has used early intervention what have your experiences been?


  1. Good explanation of what Early Intervention is. I have had the pleasure of having 5 of my own children go through the Early Intervention process and teaching many children during the Early Intervention years as a special education teacher. I have seen amazing growth in all of the children I have worked with and with my own children. EI can be very powerful.