Almost anyone who has a preemie has heard of Early Intervention (EI), at least in passing. Some NICUs are really fantastic about providing parents with information about resources available to parents of preemies. Others don’t provide moms and dads with as much information, but will make basic suggestions about therapies, services, and more for preemies. Thanks to the Internet, almost everything you need to know about services for preemies is out there and easy to find. One of those services is Early Intervention.
Why should parents of preemies look into Early Intervention in particular? Most premature infants (and toddlers) need help to reach developmental milestones, and EI provides just that. It’s a series of a federally funded programs carried out by states for children ages 0-3 and in many states, babies who have spent time in NICUs qualify automatically for either an assessment or for speech, vision, occupational, and physical therapy services. Not all preemies will need EI for their first three years, but even a few months of intervention services can give parents a great foundation for helping preemies cope with or overcome developmental delays, cognitive disorders, emotional issues, feeding problems, speech difficulties, or other concerns.
What many moms and dads of preemies like best about EI, however, is that it’s anything but clinical. In many states, therapists or teachers will come right to a family’s home on a schedule agreed upon by everyone. A typical session can last a half hour to an hour, and usually involves the EI specialist playing with the child, working on specific activities to address that child’s issues, and giving parents activity ideas that they can do between sessions to reinforce what the child is doing with the specialist. Families and their EI therapists often develop close bonds, and the therapist often knows the child they are working with so well that they can recognize emerging issues early on.
Ideally, Early Intervention begins as soon as possible, but parents of preemies younger than three can request an EI assessment at any time. Waiting can mean that a child reaches milestones later, but it’s never too late to start EI. Parents who have financial concerns should know that EI can be covered by medical insurance and in many states, fees for services are determined by income – with many families receiving services at low cost or no cost.
To find services in your state, ask your preemie’s care team for a referral or visit https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/parents/states.html. Then select your state and find the listing for one or more early intervention programs in your state. In many states, babies born prematurely will automatically qualify for EI services even if they haven’t yet shown any developmental delays. In some cases, Early Intervention begins right after discharge from the NICU though parents will concerns can contact EI any time before a preemie turns three.
Did you – or do you – use EI services? What did you think of their effectiveness?