early intervention is key

Early Intervention Helps Young Kids Thrive

When Nicole D.'s 2-year-old son Doug was just a few months old, he was diagnosed with optic nerve hypoplasia, a rare condition that impaired his vision.

"When he was a baby, he didn’t look at our faces or track toys with his eyes," says Nicole. "We were told there was no cure but we didn't accept that." They immediately began researching new treatments and found helpful therapists for Doug in the Early Intervention Program at Virtua.

For children from birth to age 3 who experience developmental delays, the Early Intervention Program offers physical, occupational and speech therapists, social workers, and teachers who all work to help kids overcome delays. "Children grow and develop at different rates. Although there’s a range, children typically pass through a set of predictable milestones," explains Virtua speech-language pathologist, Maria Emerson, MA, CCC-SLP.

Emerson notes that the developmental milestones are typically broken down into five areas of development:

  • Physical (fine motor and gross motor skills)
  • Social and emotional
  • Cognitive (thinking skills)
  • Communication (receptive and expressive)
  • Adaptive (self-help)

"These areas overlap, as development in one area is reinforced and enhanced by growth in others. Therefore, it’s important to consider all of these areas in whole when looking at your child,” Emerson says. “Keep in mind that each child is unique and may develop skills at a different rate than a peer or sibling."

While we can most easily observe the milestones that we can see and hear – such as sitting, walking, talking, and playing – Emerson explains that many "invisible" skills are embedded within the skills you CAN see. These invisible skills prove crucial for a child's development and build the foundation for a solid future. So while you may be able to see that your 6-month-old baby turns toward loud noises, it may not be as obvious when she recognizes familiar faces, a more invisible developmental skill.

In cases concerning delays and disabilities that affect a child’s development, early intervention specialists can assess a child’s skills and abilities and work with the child and family to provide therapy and support services. Nicole’s son Doug is working with a range of early intervention specialists who have helped him overcome his disability and learn to use his body and the vision he does have in the best ways he can. Doug has been receiving early intervention since his diagnosis at 2 months old. Today, he sees a teacher, as well as occupational, physical and a speech therapists. 

“When we first found out about his diagnosis it was devastating. As upsetting as it can be sometimes, we now know if we work hard he can be as independent as any other child,” says Nicole. “With the tips and ideas from his team, we’ve helped him become aware of his body and how it works, as well as learn to communicate and use his words. We’re currently focusing on building his strength and improving his fine motor skills. With the team’s help, Doug has met almost all his milestones. We’ve seen amazing results – he’s now naming colors of things and even identifying items in pictures."

Updated June 6, 2016

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