Early Childhood Intervention: What Is It And Should I Consider It For My Child?

Updated January 5, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

When an infant or toddler seems to lag behind others their age, parents naturally worry. After all, if the child is slow to develop, they may have special needs that need to be addressed. What can you do when your child seems to be having trouble keeping up with other children their age? It may be time to learn more about what it means to have an early childhood intervention.

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The Basics Of Early Childhood Intervention

Early childhood intervention refers to a range of services that are designed to help children ages three and younger reach developmental milestones or deal with specific health concerns. The goal is to reach the children at a young age, so they will be ready to thrive in school and life later on.

In the U.S., early childhood intervention services are provided by each state. Children receive these services free or at a low cost due to funding by grants from the government. The programs are made available through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Where Is ECI Done And How Long Does It Last?

Early childhood interventions can be done in the home, in classrooms, or in a learning center designed for such programs. Typically, children stay in ECI until they reach age three. However, some states continue the services after the child’s third birthday. If your child needs special education services, these services will begin immediately after the early childhood intervention is over.

What Role Do The Parents Play?

The family plays an important role in early childhood intervention. ECI specialists involve the family, and especially the parents, in the infant or toddler's developmental programs. They may teach the family ways to foster development. They may also provide outside resources to help the family meet the child's needs.

What Types Of Services Are Included In The Intervention?

Early childhood intervention programs vary by state. They may include a wide range of services, including:

  • Screening

  • Assessment

  • Physical or occupational therapy

  • Speech and language therapy

  • Medical and nursing services

  • Nutrition services

  • Hearing and vision services

  • Social work services

  • Psychological services

  • Home visits and transportation

What Skills Can Children Develop Through ECI?

Babies and toddlers receive help developing the skills that are typical of their age. These include:

  • Physical skills like crawling, walking, and drawing

  • Cognitive skills like learning and problem-solving

  • Communication skills like talking and listening

  • Self-help skills like dressing and eating

  • Social/emotional skills like playing and social interaction

  • Sensory processing skills like recognizing textures, sounds, and tastes

What Is An Early Childhood Intervention Specialist?

If your child is accepted into a program, they will work with one or more early childhood intervention specialists. Early childhood intervention is a specific branch of special education. There are several types of ECI specialists:

  • Speech and Language Pathologists - for help with speech, language, early literacy, feeding, and swallowing

  • Physical Therapists - for help with developing strength, balance, and coordination

  • Occupational Therapists - for help with fine motor skills, sensory processing, and play skills

  • Psychologists - for help with behavior, mental health, learning disabilities, emotional control, and developing relationships

  • Nurses - to assess the child's physical health and give advice on medical issues or to follow a treatment plan from a doctor

  • Nutritionists - for help with diet and feeding issues

  • Audiologists - to provide hearing tests and hearing aids or lip-reading training if needed

  • Social Workers - to assess social development and provide resources

  • Developmental Therapists - to create learning activities and situations that can foster the child's thinking, learning, and social development

  • Vision Specialists - to provide vision assessments or teach eye exercises

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What Is An ECI Assessment?

The first step in finding out if your child needs early childhood intervention services is to go in for an ECI screening. The screening is a quick assessment to determine whether further assessment is needed. 

Pediatricians or pediatric nurses usually conduct screenings. Teachers can also screen children enrolled in early childhood education programs. If the screening indicates that your child might need some help, a more detailed assessment is recommended.

How ECI Specialists Conduct Assessments

If your child needs a full ECI assessment, several specialists may get involved. A child psychologist or developmental pediatrician can provide a diagnosis if your child has a suspected developmental problem. Other specialists may enter the picture if specific problems are noted in the screening. For example, if the child seems to have speech problems, a speech pathologist does an in-depth assessment of that one area, typically spending an hour or more investigating your child's abilities.

What Are The Important Child Development Milestones?

Child development milestones are behaviors that nearly all children demonstrate at a specific point in their lives. The body and brain typically develop at a rate that is roughly the same for most children. Knowing what these milestones are can help you recognize how well your child is developing. You can find a complete list of these milestones on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website.

Childhood developmental milestones include social and emotional behaviors, language and communication, thinking and problem-solving, and physical development. For example, a child who can sit without support at the age of six months is right on schedule for that developmental milestone. There is naturally some variation in age, but it is usually slight. If your child is eight months old and still not sitting up without support, this may be a case where early childhood intervention is needed.

Are My Child's Problems Too Mild For Intervention?

If you're wondering whether your child's developmental problems are a serious concern, remember that screening is a short process. You can find out quickly whether there's cause for concern or not.

Your child will be given a full assessment if the screening shows cause for concern. You don't have to be the one to determine if there's a problem, and if so, how serious it is. Let the professionals discover where your child's needs lie.

Is My Child Too Old For ECI?

If your child is younger than three years old, they can get help from early childhood intervention services. If your child is three or older, you can still have them assessed. Depending on your state, there may be other services available to your child if developmental problems are found during the assessment. In any case, they can get resources through special education when they go to school.

Will My Child Benefit From An Intervention?

Early childhood intervention specialists are trained to work with young children in ways that will help them develop faster and in healthier ways. If an assessment shows your child needs help, the specialists can supply the specific help they need. Any child with developmental issues can benefit from ECI.

The benefits may stay with your child for the rest of their life, too. In one study, subjects, who were in early childhood intervention programs in the first five years of life had better health, cognitive skills, school achievement, higher grade level attained, higher earnings, and lower rates of criminality up to 30 years later.

What If I'm Still Unsure?

The decision to take your child into early childhood intervention specialists for screening and assessment can be a difficult one. Some parents feel like it's an admission of inadequacy to reach out for help outside the family. Others are fearful about introducing their infant or young child to people they don't know.

If you've never been involved with early childhood interventions before, you may find it hard to give it a chance. You can start by talking to others whose children have been through ECI. Talk about the situation with close friends who know your child well. If you need further advice or just want to say the things you don't feel comfortable talking about with friends and family, you can talk to a counselor.

Just as it can be challenging to reach out for an early childhood intervention, it can also be difficult to seek help from a mental health professional. You may feel embarrassed about your situation or just feel hesitant to talk to a stranger about these sensitive topics in person. Online therapy can eliminate these barriers to treatment. With internet-based counseling, you can talk to a licensed therapist from the comfort of your home. It’s also convenient, offering appointments for busy parents around the clock. 

This type of therapy has been proven effective, too. A recent meta-analysis found that online therapy for parents has positive outcomes for the mental health of moms and dads. 


Licensed counselors are available at BetterHelp to help you learn more about childhood development, weigh your options, and find out how to manage the intense feelings that come with having a child who is ill or has special needs. With convenient, online therapy, you can regain your equilibrium and get back to the joyful parts of parenting.

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