Early Intervention for Young Children With Disabilities

Early intervention is the element of support services that is gradually gaining recognition in both the academic and the legal field. The following paper provides an overview of the history of the development of the concept, identifies the important laws in the course of its evolution, and discusses the key characteristics necessary for the successful implementation of the early intervention programs based on the available literature.

In order to determine the characteristics of successful early intervention programs, it is important to first define the concept. Due to its diverse nature, intervention is defined differently depending on its intended purpose. The most common approach defines it as a set of educational goals, although more recent attempts also include related social and healthcare services (Smith-Bonahue, 2014). Probably the most encompassing definition describes it as a combination of efforts aimed at prevention of the identified possible learning and behavior problems as well as the remediation of the existing ones (Heward, 2005). Therefore, the fundamental premise of the early intervention is its preventive nature aiming at the reduction of adverse effects later in life. However, despite its seemingly intuitive appeal, early intervention was not uniformly recognized in the academic circles. In fact, prior to 1986, the children aged 36 months or below were exempt from the early intervention provided by the Education for All Handicapped Children Act due to their exemption from the provision (Rebich, 2011). Eventually, a series of model projects were develop intended for delivery of special education and oriented towards the youngest age group. These projects served as a basis for the range of research initiatives, staff training programs, and outreach projects targeting children with disabilities and their families (Rebich, 2011). In addition, the development of the concept was accompanied by numerous constraints and complications. The disagreements over the programs’ goals, objectives, models, and methods significantly slowed down the development, and the uncertainty in choosing service providers further complicated the situation. Finally, for a long time, there was insufficient evidence of its effectiveness and the attempts to provide outcome measures were restricted by inadequate funding and several ethical barriers. Most notably, the studies often required maintenance of untreated subjects with known problems, which generated significant controversy (Shonkoff & Meisels, 2000). While some of the political, theoretical, and administrative aspects of early intervention remain unresolved today, its history of development can be considered a success, and it is reasonable to expect further improvements in the nearest future.

One of the important aspects of the early intervention for children with disabilities is the legal environment related to it. Historically, the educational issues related to children with disabilities concerned primarily local and state authorities (Umansky, 2014). The earliest legislative attempt to provide early intervention means was the Title V Maternal and Child Health (MCH) program which codified the collaboration between federal and state authorities in providing funds for mothers and infants, including the individuals with disabilities. The next important step in the legal sphere was the amendment to IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), also known as Public Law 99-457, passed in 1986 (Deeds, 2013). The main improvement associated with the law was the elimination of the gap which excluded children younger than 36 months from the free and appropriate public education. In addition, the law empowered states to devise service systems for the youngest children as well as their families. Most importantly, it relocated the responsibilities and allowed state authorities to make the majority of decisions regarding the selection of service providers, delivery coordination approaches, and construction of eligibility for services. The necessity of early intervention is also acknowledged in numerous other provisions, such as the recent introduction of programs under Affordable Care Act (ACA) that are intended to sustain Family-to-Family Health Information Centers and provide home visiting support to families with children that have several identified issues, including those with developmental delays and disabilities (Umansky, 2014). Essentially, both programs are compatible with the federal-scale goal of child disability prevention and care. The latest amendments to the law acknowledge the findings of the theorists and promptly incorporate them in the revisions. For instance, both part B and part C of the Public Law 99-457 emphasize the importance of families in providing care to children with disabilities (Bruder, 2010). Most prominently, it ensures the formation of the capacity of families to meet the needs of the children through various means, such as parent training, counseling, and social work in local schools. Overall, the latest developments in laws related to early intervention are consistent with the philosophy of inclusiveness in order to expose the children in question to typical settings and prompt their interaction with typical peers (Umansky, 2014).

Thanks to a growing amount of theoretical background supported by the research of early intervention effectiveness it is possible to identify the key components responsible for its success. According to Bruder (1993), these characteristics include the philosophy of inclusiveness present at the development stage of the program. First, such philosophy provides the sense of professionalism and cohesiveness in the participants. Second, previous findings suggest that such approach leads to better outcomes for children as well as their parents (Bruder, 1993). Third, the incorporation of such philosophy ensures the consistency of the resulting program with the current standpoint of the IDEA standards and ensures that the final product is integrated, designed with acknowledgment of community interests, and directed at families. Finally, it provides the means for the creation of a seamless climate where every participant of the interventions perceives the environment as welcoming and encouraging and finds his or her peers supportive (and, by extension, is prompted to be supportive towards others).

The second important component is the ongoing family involvement. Aside from the benefits described above, each family has an advantage of possessing a unique range of resources that are adjustable to the suitable economic and cultural conditions (Bruder, 1993). The importance of cultural background is worth emphasizing since its major role in the intervention process is becoming more evident with the recent inquiries. For example, Bradshaw (2013) suggests that cultural competence is significant enough to require constant update and revision from providers in addition to the emphasis on the family’s part. Besides, providers must be familiar with the cultural concepts to be able to monitor and document the progress as well as to provide counseling for parents in a meaningful and accessible way. It should also be acknowledged that in order to be successful, the programs must view the children’s families in relation to the community (Department of Human Services, 2001). This presumes the orientation towards the needs of the neighborhood and the recognition of values during the design and execution of the program.

Due to its preventive nature, early intervention offers benefits of improved outcomes for the children with disabilities and their families. In addition, these programs offer greater cost-effectiveness as upon their successful implementation they eliminate the need for more resource-consuming remediation interventions. In the recent years, the early intervention practices saw significant support from both the policymakers and the researchers. The favorable climate coupled with the improved understanding of the necessary components provides the excellent opportunity for the development and implementation of the successful intervention initiatives.


Bradshaw, W. (2013). A framework for providing culturally responsive early intervention services. Young Exceptional Children, 16(1), 3-15.

Bruder, M. B. (1993). The provision of early intervention and early childhood special education within community early childhood programs: Characteristics of effective service delivery. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 13(1), 19-37.

Bruder, M. B. (2010). Early childhood intervention: A promise to children and families for their future. Exceptional Children, 76(3), 339-355.

Deeds, A. (2013). Risk, families, and interventions in early childhood special education. Web.

Department of Human Services. (2001). Best start: Effective intervention programs. Web.

Heward, W. (2005). Exceptional Children (8th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Rebich, S. A. (2011). Understanding the impact of early intervention on family functions of daily care, spirituality, socialization, recreation, and self-esteem through parental perceptions. Web.

Shonkoff, J. P., & Meisels, S. J. (2000). Handbook of early childhood intervention. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Smith-Bonahue, T. (2014). Intervention. In S. Hooper & W. Umansky (Eds.), Young children with special needs (6th ed.) (pp. 480-522). Boston, MA: Pearson.

Umansky, W. (2014). Introduction to young children with special needs. In S. Hooper & W. Umansky (Eds.), Young children with special needs (6th ed.) (pp. 3-10). Boston, MA: Pearson.

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