Early intervention generally means providing services to children with certain developmental disabilities or delays. An early intervention specialist typically works with such children, from infancy to age three, but he or she also can assist older children when necessary. A commonly held belief, by most professionals in the field, is that children tend to attain better developmental outcomes when they receive a diagnosis and services as early as possible. The specialist often functions as a member of a professional team that can provide a variety of services to children and their families.
Parents and other caretakers concerned about a child’s development might discuss it with his or her pediatrician, preschool teacher, or other existing childcare provider. Generally, anyone who notices a potential developmental problem in a child can refer him or her to an early intervention specialist for a screening. Typical issues addressed can include a child’s social and emotional development, physical delays, cognitive problems, and communication issues.
The job duties of an early intervention specialist often include interviewing children and families during home or office visits. During these meetings, the specialist can conduct evaluations and assessments to determine the presence of developmental disabilities. Based on the results, he or she can then help coordinate services for the child. These services can range from arranging speech therapy to obtaining nursing services or providing transportation to the child’s daycare center. The specialist might also work specifically with some of the child’s family members or teachers, to provide the most appropriate services.
Early intervention specialists are often trained in one or more of the following fields — education, early childhood education, psychology, social work, or sociology. Some professional positions might require further education and specialization. Examples of such specialties might include special education, speech therapy, physical therapy, or nursing. Certificate programs are often available in even more specific areas, as well, such as working with autistic children. Specialists with advanced degrees and extensive practical experience may eventually move into careers in program policy or administration.
In the United States, the requirements regarding certification and licensing generally vary from state to state. Some employers may seek employees that have fulfilled certain training obligations prior to being hired, while others might ask employees to take part in certification or licensing programs as part of their on-the-job training. People who wish to learn more about becoming an early intervention specialist — or about finding one to work with their family — can usually find information by contacting their local social services offices or other community service agencies.