March 29, 2023

What's Early Intervention?

Early Intervention (EI) refers to the speech-language therapy and other services provided to young children and their families when there is a risk of or diagnosed developmental delay or disability.  In addition to communication, EI can include assessment and support in the following areas of development: cognitive, physical, social/emotional, and adaptive/self-help.  

Thanks to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), states are provided funding to support eligible children ages newborns through three years, and Early Steps is Florida's EI system.  Even with this resource, many families seek speech-language therapy privately in addition to, or in leu of government services.  Reasons for this can vary, but in my experience, often clients do not meet the specific criteria required for government programs, are looking for shorter timelines to begin services, prefer a specific private therapist, or are seeking different or more flexible service models.

The Amazing Young Brain

A baby's brain is designed to grow and learn in amazing ways with adaptable connections called neural circuits that become more rigid with age.  Between birth to two years of age, the size of the human brain triples is size, and most of its core structure is completely formed by a child's third birthday.  The brain's neuroplasticity and tremendous capacity for learning in the first few years of life make it the ideal time to develop early communication skills.  This is why early speech-language intervention is so impactful and its benefits are more effective when children receive support in the first three years of life.

Skip “Wait and See”

When children are experiencing difficulty with communication at a young age, such as limited production of sounds or words, some take a “wait and see” approach.  Rather than act right away and seek information and guidance from a speech-language pathologist (SLP), parents or caregivers choose or are advised to “wait and see” if their child will outgrow a delay.  We now know that the best recommendation is to consult with an SLP right away if you have any concerns or questions about your baby or toddler's communication development.  Brief assessments called screeners can be administered by an SLP and are a quick and convenient way to help identify children who may benefit from a more in-depth speech-language evaluation to determine the presence of a delay or disorder.  

The Risk in Delaying Therapy

Research shows that without intervention, some children experiencing communication delays will be able to catch up to peers without significant negative impact.  However, it is important to consider that if provided therapy in the early years, these children will have the opportunity to meet communication milestones faster and reach the level of typically developing peers sooner.  

Unfortunately, about 30% of young children showing signs of delay will not catch up without intervention.  These children will continue to fall further behind and will require targeted speech and language therapy in order to help close gaps and master crucial skills.  This can result in long-lasting language challenges that can also hinder reading and writing later in school.  

Earlier is Better

The goal of early intervention is to help children sooner rather than later in order to avoid or at least reduce the social and academic impacts (some of which can be lifelong) that a speech-language delay or disorder can create.  As quoted by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), "the earlier that services are delivered, the more likely children are to develop effective communication, language, and swallowing skills and achieve successful learning outcomes" (Guralnick, 2011).

- Johanna Sims, M.S., CCC-SLP


American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (n.d.). Early Intervention. (Practice Portal). Retrieved March, 1, 2023, from

Capone Singleton, N. (2018). Late talkers: Why the wait-and-see approach is outdated. Pediatric Clinics of NorthAmerica, 65(1), 13-29.

Ellis EM, Thal DJ. (2008) Early language delay and risk for language impairment. Perspect Lang Learn Ed., 15(3): 93-100.

Guralnick, M. J. (2011). Why early intervention works: A systems perspective. Infants & Young Children, 24, 6–28.

The Importance of Early Intervention for Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities and Their Families [1.19 MB, 2 Pages] Accessed March 2, 2023.

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