Written by Julie Higginbotham, Senior Case Coordinator, Mecklenburg County CDSA
When you first hear about early intervention, you hear about the program’s focus on children under the age of 3 with delays in their development or that have other established conditions, right? That’s wonderful – what’s better than working with infants and toddlers to help them meet those first milestones and give them the foundation that gets them started in life? At first glance, it looks like we’re here as early interventionists to work with kids. When you look a little further, though, it’s so much more than that – because research tells us that young children learn best in natural environments with those most familiar to them, we have to pull back from the picture a bit in order to make the most of the time that we spend with families. Parents and primary caregivers are the most important pieces of the puzzle when it comes to helping children be more successful in routines because they’re the ones actually doing the work, day in and day out. Working on developmental skills, isolated in a therapy session without familiar people or familiar places/activity settings, has less of an impact on developmental progress, so we have to come up with ways to incorporate the skills that children need to be successful into more natural learning opportunities throughout the day. Since we know that understanding child development and family-friendly activities is important, where does that bring in the fact that we’re really here to be coaches for the parents when we aren’t there for all of those learning opportunities?
When working with parents, there are some key things to remember to help make visits with families a success:
- Not all parents know that they’re amazing. Shocking right? Parents meet the ongoing needs of their children as part of the job description, but often they don’t realize all of the learning opportunities they give their children every day until someone points it out to them. Often parents are not confident in their abilities to enhance their child’s development. Having an outside perspective that can see the little things can be the difference in following through with suggestions when they’re on their own. Every parent has strengths – some jump out at you, and all are so very much worth the little extra effort to pull them out. The most important thing we can do is encourage parents and reassure them that they’re doing a great job, wherever they are in their parenting journey.
- It’s the little things that count. Early intervention is about maximizing natural learning opportunities throughout the day, not adding to already-packed routines to work on discrete skills. If the family has identified the need to help their child ask appropriately for a cup of milk, that’s a great opportunity to coach the family through that process of helping their children use the sounds that they need to communicate more effectively, as well as discuss other times of day to practice those skills as well. Since we know that the “m” sound is important here, where are there other opportunities to use that sound in other routines? Maybe waking up and calling for Mom, mooing at the cows that Dad passes on the way to daycare in the morning, and, of course, asking for milk when the child comes in from playing outside. Little moments throughout the day build up quickly for kids, and when a routine starts to get smoother, you’ve made the difference you’re there to make.
- Not all parents learn the same things the same way. You can have two parents in the same house that need to get information in different ways. Some parents need to see it, some need to hear it, some need to see it on paper, and pretty much all of them need a chance to try things out to see how it feels. On our Intervention Tools page, we have a great resource called Implementing Information About Adult Learners in Family-guided Activity Based Intervention. You can use this to see how you’re using the information you know about adult learners to better connect with parents.
Working with children is a very rewarding job, and it’s an honor to be invited in to witness and participate in those successes. What’s even more wonderful, though, is in knowing that we have the ability to encourage families and empower them to be the best they can be!!