THE IMPORTANCE OF EARLY INTERVENTION.
By Jesús Díaz-Santos. Occupational Therapist specialized in Early Intervention
The early years of a child’s life are critical to their development. Early Intervention intervenes during these early years: between birth and 6 years of age. During these years children can more readily receive, assimilate process and integrate new sensations and experiences thanks to the high brain plasticity of their developing nervous system; which can count on new neural connections more numerous than at any other stage of their life. The result is that functions which are normally restricted to affected areas can actually be developed in other areas of the brain.
Neurology dictates that the nervous system cannot fully develop without the aid of external stimuli. It is these external stimuli which cause a series of reactions in the system which allow it to develop and perfect its purpose. As a result, everything that surrounds the child during their early years serves as a stimulus which contributes to their development.
When a child has a disorder which halts or impedes their development it is necessary for appropriate stimuli to surround them in their normal environment. At this stage, Early Intervention is an essential tool to enhance the normal development of the child’s capabilities.
Early Intervention is defined as “joint intervention, aimed at children from 0-6 years old, at the family and the environment, whose objective is to respond as soon as possible to transitory or permanent needs present in children with development disorders or who are at risk of suffering them.
This intervention, which should consider the globality of children, should be planned by an interdisciplinary or trans-disciplinary professional team”.
The main objective of early intervention is for “all children who present developments disorders, or are at risk of suffering them; receive everything considered preventive and care-related following a model that considers bio-psycho-social aspects. This can boost their capacity for development and well-being and enable them to integrate into the family, school and social environment in the most complete way. It also affords them personal autonomy”. (Libro Blanco de Atención Temprana, 2005)
In other words, the fundamental objective of Early Intervention is to offer the child as many opportunities as possible so that it can achieve optimal development across all areas: motor, cognitive, social, emotional, etc.
When we talk about intervening “as soon as possible”, we’re talking about early detection. It is very important to detect a child’s needs as early as possible. Early detection allows us to intervene as soon as possible and achieve a better outcome.
We also talk about considering the “globality of the child” and an “interdisciplinary team approach”. This terms refer to the involvement of different professionals from various disciplines working together to create a joint action plan which covers areas such as psychology, speech therapy, occupational therapy, and physiotherapy. Of course, the school environment plays an important part, as does the cornerstone of any treatment of this type: the family. The family has a vital role in Early Intervention. The involvement of parents or other relatives of the child will ensure a more effective therapeutic treatment.
The programmes which Early Intervention Specialists implement consist in a series of exercises and games that are regularly performed in order to strengthen the affected brain areas. For example, crawling is a very important stage in the child’s motor development; to carry it out, the child must be able to coordinate their right hand with their left leg and their left hand with their right leg. This process is known as cross-pattern. Stimulation of this activity consists of performing exercises which strengthen this process, therefore allowing the child to development adequate body coordination.
About 7% of new-borns and young children in Spain require Early Intervention services. Childhood Development and Early Intervention Centres (CDIAT in Spanish) are specialized centres which provide services aimed at children and their families. These services, offered through an interdisciplinary team of Early Intervention Specialist professionals, include stimulation therapy, psychology, speech therapy, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, and psychomotor therapy. They will also offer the family advice about their child’s developmental issues. All these approaches will be brought together to develop and implement a joint action plan.