Let's talk about Early Intervention (EI) programs.
We know now that the earlier the child receives the services, and the earlier the family receives the support they need, the better the outcome is. Every state in the United States has an Early Intervention program for children from birth to three years of age. Through these programs children who qualify for services can receive speech, occupational, and physical therapy, as well as developmental intervention and other services. After three years or age the the preschoolers may continue receiving services through the school districts.
An important thing to know about Early Intervention program is, that anyone can refer a child to an evaluation: a parent, a guardian, or a doctor. You, as a parent, can call the state’s early intervention program and request an evaluation. One way to start the phone call is: “Hello, my name is so-and-so, I want to refer my child for speech and language evaluation. I have concerns about my child’s development”, or “I have concerns that my child [is not speaking yet] [is not saying words correctly] [does not seem to understand what is said to her]”. The EI program representative will walk you through the next steps.
In the State of NJ, Early Intervention evaluations are free, however therapy is not, and the cost is based on the family income. If your child indeed qualifies for early intervention, a speech therapist (or a another professional, depending on your child’s needs) will come to your home and work with both you and your child, set up specific goals, and give you specific strategies and advice tailored to the needs of your child and your family.
If you think that your child may have problems with speaking, understanding, or hearing, trust your instinct and get evaluation through the early intervention program. Many times the advice you hear from friends, family, and even pediatricians is to wait and see, but if you feel that something is off, it may be worth checking it out. Pediatricians have checklists and questionnaires that they use to determine whether or not a child is developing appropriate skills, but they do not provide as comprehensive and detailed information as what a speech-language pathologist would be looking for. A speech therapist can give you a clear picture of what your child’s skills are now, what you should expect to see next, and how to get there.
You can find the links to NJ Early Intervention Questions & Answers as well as to developmental milestones here: http://www.slp4u.com/helpful-links.html