The first three years of a child’s life play a crucial role in his or her development. By the time healthy toddlers are ready to enter preschool, they will have reached a number of developmental milestones, including being able to dress themselves, say their first name, and play make-believe. Infants and toddlers who are having trouble reaching developmental milestones can catch up to their peers with the help of early intervention, a system of support services that help children with developmental delays. Early intervention is especially important in minimizing potential developmental delays for the one in six children in the United States diagnosed with developmental disabilities.

Early intervention can enhance the development of infants and toddlers and help individuals with disabilities reach their full potential. As we explore the importance of intervention programs, consider the active role you could take to help children overcome developmental delays. If you’re interested a career as a special education teacher or early intervention specialist, earning a master’s degree in special education can help you achieve your goal.

The Impact of Early Intervention on Children With Special Needs

Although it’s best to mitigate a developmental issue before a child reaches the age of three, early intervention remains important during the subsequent school years. For example, a teacher who notices a student struggling with reading comprehension can help that student secure the individualized attention they need before they’re “left behind” by their peers. Despite the attention of caring parents and teachers, a struggling student may be suffering from an underlying developmental disability, such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), hearing loss, or a learning disability.

The Earlier the Better

Early intervention in special education can improve developmental trajectories for children with disabilities and improve outcomes with regard to health; language; and cognitive, social, and emotional development. It can also help families care for their children, advocate for services, and gain access to systems of support. However, intervention is more likely to be effective if it is done earlier in life. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “the connections in a child’s brain are most adaptable during the first three years of life. These connections, also called neural circuits, are the foundation for learning, behavior, and health. Over time, these connections become harder to change.” The earlier intervention is implemented, the better a child’s chances of achieving their full potential.

A Growing Need

The need for early intervention in education is further supported by the CDC and Health Resources and Services Administration’s findings that the prevalence of developmental disabilities is increasing among children in the United States. Their study found that about 17% of children aged 3-17 had a developmental disability. Specifically, the number of children with developmental disabilities rose from 16.2% between 2009 and 2011 to 17.8% between 2015 and 2017; however, this is likely due in part to increased awareness, screening, and diagnosis of developmental disabilities. With one in six children in the United States being diagnosed with a developmental disability, this study shows that the actual number of children with developmental disabilities remains unknown and could point to an even greater need for early intervention in education.

The Foundations of Early Intervention

The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) was passed with the goal of making public education and related services free and accessible to students with disabilities. The Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities Program (Part C) of IDEA was passed in 1986 to provide early intervention to infants and toddlers aged three and under. Together, IDEA and Part C govern how states and public agencies provide early intervention services to children with disabilities and their families.

Under Part C, every infant or toddler with a disability is entitled to receive an individualized family service plan (IFSP) developed by parents and a multidisciplinary team. Not to be confused with an IEP (individualized education program developed for public school children who need special education), an IFSP focuses on a child’s unique needs and how services and family members can meet those needs. An IFSP also focuses on easing a young learner’s transition to preschool. Examples of early intervention services include:

  • Family training and counseling
  • Speech-language pathology
  • Vision and audiology services
  • Occupational and physical therapy
  • Early identification services

Services like these are essential for assisting children with their physical, cognitive, communication, social, emotional, and adaptive development. The special educators, social workers, and other qualified professionals who provide early intervention services all play a crucial role in helping boys and girls with special needs overcome developmental delays. If you’re interested in taking an active role in early intervention and prevention in special education, earning a master’s degree in special education is a good start.

Take an Active Role in Early Intervention

The University of Texas Permian Basin offers a Master of Arts in Special Education that can help education professionals transition into a career helping students with disabilities. Whether you’d like to be a special education teacher and assist at a crucial time in a young learner’s life or an early intervention specialist and take a hands-on approach addressing developmental delays, our program can provide you with the skillset to do so.

Our online program is accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). Courses like Characteristics of ASD and Developmental Disorders will help you identify characteristics of developmental disorders, while our course Transition Programming for Exceptional Learners will empower you to help students with special needs transition to life after secondary school.

UT Permian Basin’s online MA in special education program is affordable, 100% online, and can be completed in as little as 12 months. If you already have a career educating young children, you can earn your master’s degree in special education while continuing to foster their education. Advance your career at your own pace, from your own home. For a master’s degree that can open doors in a field in need of your experience, expertise, and empathy, enroll in UT Permian Basin’s online MA in special education program.

Learn more about UT Permian Basin’s online MA in special education program.