Early intervention services is a more general label for the various services aimed at helping school-age children who display developmental delays or specific problems in class. Typically, this covers speech-language therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, psychological services, and sometimes social work.
Providing the kinds of services early in a child’s school career can:
- Identify issues that might not be immediately obvious
- Help the child “catch up” to his or her peers in the classroom
- Head off more serious and disruptive behaviors in the future
- Improve the child’s chances of success, in school and in life overall
In short, early detection of classroom difficulties, and subsequent therapy at the youngest possible age, can make a dramatic difference for both the students and teachers.
How Can You Tell Early Intervention is Needed?
Despite the positive outcomes of early intervention, many students “slip through the cracks” and do not get timely therapy services. Why? Many times, it is because the signs are hard to spot when a child is young. Larger classroom sizes and increasing demands on teachers also make it likely that some signs will be missed.
The first step in making positive change in this direction is getting a feel for what you might be missing. For example, we did a study looking at the percentage of students in Missouri schools receiving various types of therapy. Given that the need for therapy does not vary much from district to district, this gives a good, “rough and ready” indication as to whether your school (or schools) have a large segment of underserved students in this regard. A school with a percentage well below the state average may indicate that more intervention and screening is needed.
Early Warning Signs
Statistics can tell us when the averages are low, but it still does not help one to identify specific individual kids who are struggling. Of course, teachers are the first line of defense here. You should take steps to train them and make sure they are aware of the early warning signs signaling the need for early intervention.
Here are a few things teachers have noted about students before referring them to us for specific services:
- Difficulty with rhyming words or learning the alphabet can be an early indicator of dyslexia.
- Transposing letters, even in easy words, is another potential sign of dyslexia.
- Frequent daydreaming and distractibility could be a sign of ADHD.
- Trouble answering questions, following directions, or understanding and retaining details of what they have been told could point to an underlying language deficit or communication disorder.
- Trouble mastering handwriting, cutting with scissors, manipulating craft materials, or playing physical games with other children could mean motor issues.
From Suspicion to Early Screening and Evaluation
All that said, teachers can only bring the suspicion of a problem to your attention. To pinpoint the exact problems your students are having, you will need to request a full screening and/or evaluation. (If you are a special education director operating in Missouri, you can go ahead and request one from us here.)
While proper screening and evaluation might seem time-consuming and costly, not doing these things is even more wasteful in the long run. When done early enough, proper screening and evaluation allow for early intervention, which in turn shortens the student’s time in therapy and compensates for problems before the student falls behind. Oftentimes, this means there is a compensating decrease in future interventions.
If you have questions about a specific problem, such as dyslexia or communication disorders, just reach out and we can give you some resources to help you spot at-risk students.