Time to Intervene

Discover the importance of the Early Intervention Program for children with special needs.  

If you are parenting a special needs child you already know that he needs special attention; especially when it comes to his development. This is critically important as providing him with the right support so he can enhance his learning and other skills, will allow him to fulfill his potential.

Chances are high that your child’s condition will greatly improve if you introduce him to helpful tools and programs such as the Early Intervention Program (EIP). The Early Intervention Program (EIP) is designed specifically for children with special needs and aims to aid their development. Urban Health speaks to Consultant Paediatrician and Neonatologist at Tropicana Medical Center, Dr. Anushree Narayanan on this matter.

Optimising abilities

The Early Intervention Program (EIP) is basically made up of intervention options for children with special needs. “This term, which was previously used to refer to the social welfare of the child, has now grown to include the medical aspect of early development. This covers both physical and mental development,” explains Dr. Anushree.

The purpose of EIP is to optimise the abilities of a special needs child, from a young age. Dr. Anushree explains that a child with special needs can be identified at any time of his life. “However as paediatricians, we aim to identify such needs as early as we can.”

To identify a child with special needs, it takes the focus and expertise of a team that includes your child’s doctor, caregiver and sometimes, even school teachers. “The moment a parent has a concern, it is important for the doctor to evaluate it,” says Dr. Anushree. A parent’s concern should not be taken lightly and a child’s condition needs to be examined by a medical expert as soon as possible. This is to ensure that anything outside normal growth and development is identified early.

Thankfully, today, there is much more awareness on EIP, in the medical world as well among the public. “Society is now more aware that something can be done if your child has special needs,” says Dr. Anushree.

Early intervention is key

Dr. Anushree explains that the core idea behind EIP is this: the earlier you intervene — essentially when the child’s brain is still developing — the higher the chances that the program will have a lasting, positive impact on the child.  “EIP should commence any time after birth and ideally before four years of age.” This period is crucial as this is when the brain is developing the most. “The human brain can learn. Even if you have special needs, you will have the capacity to learn. So, the earlier you teach, the more the child can achieve,” assures Dr. Anushree.

As for children who have a higher level of special needs, parents should aim to achieve a certain degree of independence for their child. “It is important to keep in mind that these children will eventually become adults and you need to ensure that your child has some ability to live independently.”

EIP also aims to ensure that the child’s potential if explored fully, identified and optimised. “For example, even if your child may not have the ability to study in a traditional learning environment, he may have good vocational capabilities,” explains Dr. Anushree, adding that EIP will uncover this potential.

What happens if your child has been diagnosed with having special needs at a later age? Does this mean that he may ‘miss out’? “If you start at a later stage, your child will continue to learn at their own pace. However, depending on the severity of your child’s condition, the results may not be as promising as compared to if your child was introduced to EIP at an earlier age,” explains Dr. Anushree.

Various channels

EIP consists of a variety of auxiliary services which has been made available by the medical world for the development of children with special needs. These consist of the services of medical experts such as:

  • Physiotherapists
  • Speech and language therapists
  • Occupational therapists
  • Audiologists
  • Doctors and community nurses
  • Educational psychologists

This group of experts works to improve a child’s current condition and focus on their physical, emotional, learning, social and occupational development.  However, Dr. Anushree points out that parents should note that in most cases, a child may require multiple and different kinds of support. “For example, a child who needs physiotherapy, which helps to build and strengthen muscles, may also need occupational therapy which teaches your child to perform daily activities such as tying his shoelaces.”

Also, parents should understand that every child is different. “No child will be the same as another but the positive changes a child can experience with EIP is significant,” says Dr. Anushree.

Dr. Anushree says that most government clinics and hospitals offer EIP. There are also many private centers where EIP is available. However, there is currently no regulatory body to assist in ensuring that the centers operate in accordance to the requirements and standards. Dr. Anushree’s advice to parents who wish to send their child to EIP centers is, “s eek advice from your child’s doctor, teacher or other parents of children with special needs. You should conduct some research on the center before enrolling your child.”

The intervention barrier

While we are becoming a society with increased knowledge and awareness about EIP, there is still one possible barrier that can get in the way – the taboo towards those with special needs.

Dr. Anushree reveals that parents sometimes view the issue of special needs as a ‘taboo’ topic and are reluctant acknowledge and admit that their child has a problem. “Do not sweep the issue under the carpet. As parents of a child with special needs, you should do some research, know how to access the EIP near you and work together with medical experts to address the situation in a positive manner.”

Parents should also shift their mindset. Dr. Anushree says, “If your child has special needs, don’t think about it as the end of the world. Your role is to care for your child and the best thing you can do is to access the best services available. Remember, this is your child, whether he or she has special needs or not.”

Your role in society

It is an undeniable truth that we are all responsible when it comes to increasing awareness about special needs children. Dr. Anushree stresses that society plays a key role. “Acceptance and awareness towards children with special needs is important. With more awareness, there will be more acceptance.” she says. “For example, if a family which includes a child with Down Syndrome, dines in public, people around tend to stare. Why should this be the case? They are having a family dinner just like everyone else.”

So, if your child has been diagnosed with a special needs condition, address the situation and intervene early. “It is about optimising your child’s potential and allowing your child to live as independently as possible,” advises Dr. Anushree.

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