Thursday, March 23, 2017

Early Intervention Evolution

Back in the early 2000s, what was once known as the Developmental Disabilities Center changed its name to Imagine!. This was an evolutionary move, intentionally undertaken to name our organization in a way that reflected the work we do to discover and develop the potential of all.

While a name change might not seem like much, I remember at the time one particular group of DDC/Imagine! employees who were especially pleased with our new moniker: our Early Intervention (EI) Service Coordinators.

Early Intervention Service Coordinators are often the first contact parents have with the I/DD system, and so the coordinators’ pleasure with the new name was understandable. Think about it: a set of new parents have a child facing challenges that may only be a short term delay, and the first contact they have in order to address those challenges is someone from an organization with “disability” in its name. It is understandable that those parents might react negatively to that unnecessary labeling of their child at such an early stage.

Therefore, a name like Imagine! serves as a much better introduction to parents than a name with “disabilities” in it. Early Intervention services aren’t about pinning a label on an infant or toddler that they will be forced to carry for the rest of their lives, they are about imagining the possibilities available with the right therapies and skill development. This is especially true when you consider that 2/3 of children who receive EI services don’t need additional support once they reach the age of three.

I will admit that my thinking on Early Intervention has also evolved, beginning with the time I learned from Service Coordinators about the positive effects of our name change back in the day. At that time I worried if we were perhaps being a tad overzealous in enrolling children in the EI program and therefore condemning them to be labeled for a lifetime. Since then, we’ve learned so more about how much a child’s brain is absorbing and learning even at the very earliest stage of infancy, and how much of a difference targeted therapies delivered as early as possible can make in enabling children to meet developmental milestones and be prepared for the future.

Now, rather than worry about if we are enrolling too many kids in the EI program, I wonder if we aren’t enrolling enough children, and that we’re not getting the referrals from medical professionals for enrollment early enough in the child’s life. I would like to see us have more infants and toddlers coming through our doors and getting the services they need to be sure they are set up in the best way possible for future success. In my 30 plus years at DDC/Imagine!, I have never once heard a parent say, “I wish I hadn’t done this” when talking about Early Intervention services.

Just like Imagine! has evolved, and my thinking about EI services has evolved, I hope that EI services will continue to evolve as well. We haven’t answered all of the questions yet, especially the key question of “are we properly organized and doing this in the best way we can?” It can be easy to settle in to what we know instead of continuing to strive to learn more and apply those learnings to our work. EI is in some ways the most impactful and long lasting of our services, and we should do everything we can to ensure that they are designed and delivered with the best possible outcomes in mind.

Then again, what do I know?

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