Better Hearing and Speech Month: Early Intervention

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Editor's Note: We are grateful to Ann D. Jablon, PhD, CCC-SLP, Professor Emerita, Marymount Manhattan College, who produced this resource for us. 

May is Better Hearing and Speech Month. Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) and audiologists (As) are the professionals who provide services for children and adults who have communication disorders.  Each May, SLPs and As organize events and distribute information to raise awareness of communication disorders and awareness of the professional support available for individuals who face speaking, listening, understanding, reading, writing, and hearing challenges.  Communication disorders can affect anyone at any age. The following information will focus on concerns regarding young children from ages zero through three. I am happy to have the opportunity to share some information with you during this exceptionally challenging COVID-19 May. 

What is Early Intervention?

The goal of early intervention (EI) is to provide resources and services to infants, toddlers, and their families that address communication (speech, language, and hearing) development, as well as physical development, cognitive development, social and emotional development, and self-help development during the early years of life.  

Children who are eligible to receive EI services may have specific conditions that are present at birth and place them at-risk for delays in any or all of these five areas of development.   Children who have developmental delays or disabilities are at-risk for slow or different development of their speech, language, and hearing skills.  Other children may acquire conditions after birth that can affect their development in any of these areas including the development or regression of their speech, language, and hearing skills.  If these developmental conditions are present at birth, or are acquired during the early years of development, or parents/caregivers are concerned about their child’s development, families have the right to have their child evaluated.  Support for children in developing the foundational skills in the areas of concern will help to lessen the effects of a delay or disability and help children catch up in their development.

Sometimes parents and caregivers may be reluctant to seek services because they fear a diagnosis or a label will cause their child to be perceived as less capable of succeeding in life.  But understanding the diagnosis (i.e., the difficulties the child is having) is important for positive social and emotional development.  Through the evaluation and treatment process, parents and caregivers will learn what behaviors to expect, how to participate in the child’s growth and development, and how to advocate for their child.  

Here are two brief examples from my own experience regarding initial parental distress that changed over time.  One father of a child with a developmental disability was attending a parent group that I was running in conjunction with a treatment program for three-year olds.  Several weeks into the treatment, this dad reported, “I realize that I have to adjust, not lower, my expectations regarding the definition of success.  He will be successful, but, perhaps, not in the particular way I had envisioned.  This is a relief to me because I can support him in the way he needs me to.”  In another case, a mother was opposed to having her child evaluated because she believed that seeking intervention meant that she valued him less.  Through discussion and counseling with this mom and her family, she agreed to evaluation, treatment, and enrollment in a school setting specialized to address his language and learning difficulties.  Recently the family contacted me when the young man graduated from college.  Early identification and intervention are key factors in helping children reach their goals; EI is not a barrier to success.

During the New York City Pause due to COVID-19, the New York City Early Intervention Program is active as an essential service during this exceptional time.  Below is the link to the site, which provides information about EI in New York City (and beyond).  Please watch the two short videos that focus on the importance of family involvement, not to supplant professional intervention, but to integrate family members into the support of their child’s development.  There are simple, inexpensive/non-expensive activities that enhance the acquisition of speech and language skills that are based on the daily routines of the family and household objects (e.g., bath time, meal times, etc.), ensuring that no extra burden is placed on the family members, while ensuring that all members are working together toward their mutual goal.  On this site there are many other links to important information that will help families to understand the processes and procedures of EI.

Speech-language pathologists and audiologists are important members of the EI team.  As indicated above, children with developmental delays or disabilities often have communication delays or disorders.  The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association “is the national professional, scientific, and credentialing association” for the professions of speech-language pathology and audiology.  I have included three links to specific information on their website.  

The first link, ASHA ProFind, helps you find a communication specialist in your area.  If you have concerns about your child’s communication abilities (e.g., hearing, speaking, understanding, etc.), be sure to consult an SLP or A.

The second link provides guidelines about communication development and indicators of atypical communication development. It is important to remember that children develop their skills at their own rate. Knowing the guidelines for typical communication development and the indicators of atypical communication development will help families recognize the signs of a possible speech, language, or hearing disorder so that they may seek help early.  The site also has two additional links with helpful information, including particularly useful information about interacting with babies and preschool children in ways that will enhance their speech and language development. 

The third link provides information on speech and language development through the elementary years, including important information on “Learning More Than One Language.”  It is critical to understand that learning another language is a wonderful benefit and it is certainly not a language problem. 

In summary, there are congenital and post-congenital conditions that place children at-risk for speech, language, and hearing disorders during their early developmental years (zero to three).  Families with concerns about their child’s development should contact professionals who can help them determine the appropriate next steps. Speech-language pathologists and audiologists are a source of information and support for families with questions and concerns. 

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