Importance of early intervention for special children

The early years of every child’s life have great significance. During the infant and toddler years some children follow normal pattern of development. But some children and families have to face special challenges. Since their children face developmental delays or disability, they do not follow similar course of development. So their parents seek guidance and help. Developmental delays can be physical, cognitive, communicative, social, or emotional. If such delays and disabilities are earlier identified, their parents and care givers can get help sooner and problem can be minimized or eliminated. On time intervention can make a difference.  Children whose special needs are identified and addressed earlier during early years have maximum chance of reaching their full potential and qualifying for inclusion. Early intervention is the set of services which are designed to identify and treat a disability or developmental delay before a child reaches the age of three. Early intervention services are often offered in diverse settings including child care centre, clinic or in a child s home. 
Early intervention is very important in early years. The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University has summarized this research in 2009: • Neural circuits, which create the foundation for learning, behavior and health, are most flexible or “plastic” during the first three years of life. Over time, they become increasingly difficult to change. 
Persistent “toxic” stress, such as extreme poverty, abuse and neglect, or severe maternal depression can damage the developing brain, leading to lifelong problems in learning, behavior, and physical and mental health. The brain is strengthened by positive early experiences, especially stable relationships with caring and responsive adults, safe and supportive environments, and appropriate nutrition. Early social emotional development and physical health provide the foundation upon which cognitive and language skills develop. 
High quality early intervention services can change a child’s developmental trajectory and improve outcomes for children, families, and communities. Intervention is likely to be more effective and less costly when it is provided earlier in life rather than later. It is therefore, very important to get help and guidance from early intervention services. For example, when hearing loss is not diagnosed on time except all other hearing complications there is social complication also. Child is unable to learn social skills; he may become impulsive and angry. If we see other side of the story in early diagnoses, a child can be fitted with a hearing aid and can work with a speech therapist and psychologists to get special assistance for better outcomes. Early intervention is covered by law and referred to as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This law protects infants and toddlers in need of early intervention because they: 1) are experiencing developmental delays in one or more of the following areas: cognitive, physical, communicative, social, emotional, or adaptive; 2) have a physical or mental condition that has a high probability of resulting in delay (Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy); or 3) at state discretion, are at risk medically or environmentally for substantial developmental delays if early intervention is not provided. (Johnson et al, 1994).Need of child and family is decisive factors to decide in which setting early intervention services may be provided. Early intervention specialist determines the time equipment, type of service according to child s needs.
Over 50 years of research on children with disabilities receiving a range of specialized services in many different settings has produced evidence that early intervention can: ameliorate and in some cases prevent developmental problems, result in fewer children being retained in later grades, reduce educational costs to school programs and improve the quality of parent, child, and family relationships (Salisbury & Smith, 1993). In addition to this, Effective early intervention has three main features. First one is the age of the child at the time of intervention secondly, parent involvement and thirdly, the intensity or the amount of structure of the program model. Early intervention structured plan should provide clear and measurable goals.
Parents are the first one who noticed developmental delays in child’s personality but in the state of confusion and emotional jerk they do not understand from where they could get help. When child’s development is not on typical course, then a referral should be made to a child development specialist, Psychologist or medical specialist. These specialists can observe and test a child for developmental delays and disabilities. After initial observation and testing, in next formal phase, child may be evaluated and assessed for possible placement in special services. A meeting with the child’s teacher, parents or caregiver along with the specialist will determine how his or her behavior and progress can be monitored, and from where and how a child can receive assistance. Referrals and assessments can continue as the child changes and grows. The child may be referred to other professionals and programs as needed.
Evaluations and assessments process helps to identify disability. It consist of informal and formal testing; use of standardized tests; and observations made by parents, caregivers, and medical or child development professionals. Doctors, nurses, early childhood development specialists, audiologists, optometrists, or speech/language pathologists can all perform an evaluation. Assessments may be made through psychological and educational evaluations; it is normally done at clinics or schools. Assessments provide medical and early childhood development specialists with information that can be incorporated into the goals and objectives of an intervention program (Johnson et al., 1994).  After assessment and evaluation a good referral system is established for the child. 
In developed countries state takes this responsibility to provide special referral to the special children.  These children can get special assistance under the age of three through state’s lead agency for early intervention program. Early intervention is relatively new concept in Pakistan. Early intervention was part of National Policy for Persons with Disabilities, 2002. The goal of the policy was the empowerment and rehabilitation of persons with disabilities for the realization of their full potential in all spheres of life. To achieve the goal, prevention, detection, early intervention, guidance and counseling, etc. were proposed in the policy. But it is dire need of the time to expand the special education services so that maximum special need children could get benefit and become productive population of society.  Thus, literacy rate will also be increased.
 In present situation, psychologists, speech therapists and audiologists posted at Government special education institutes of Punjab can play their role effectively in providing early intervention services. They can sensitize parents about their important role and involvement in shaping their special child’s life. Because parents of these students mostly do not pay their attention towards early intervention need. Special school Psychologists can create awareness among parents about proper referral system and toward the resources available for specialized assistance for their children in private or Government settings. However, it is important that like all other developed countries instead of focusing on organizational structure budget may be allocated for capacity building of those personnel who are involved in early intervention process. So they would be able to fulfill the international commitment of article 24 of UNCRPD because early intervention is the only way which can lead towards inclusion.
With time, “you realize why you have been given this little person. It isn’t because you’re some kind of saint. He is here to teach you never to take a spoken word for granted or consider a child’s step ordinary. He is here to teach you about a strong spirit, acceptance, loyalty and love in the face of difficulty” (Rafferty, 1994).

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