Early interventions are services and supports put in place to help a child, ages birth-3, with developmental delays. These delays could be anything from cognitive to motor to speech, and can involve professionals such as occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech therapists, early interventionists, and other providers from various services depending on what is needed. You’ve probably heard this term once or twice, especially if you have or are close to young children. The theory is that the earlier interventions are put into place for a child with identified needs, the better the results. How do we know this works, though? And why is it so important?
A lot of studies have been done on the brain. For our purposes, we like to look at studies dealing with brain plasticity, or the brain’s ability to rework and rewire itself. For a pretty comprehensive, but very accessible, explanation of brain plasticity and children, check out this site. The big take away for our purposes today is that brain is most flexible in our youth. As the CDC puts it, “Neural circuits, which create the foundation for learning, behavior and health, are most flexible or ‘plastic’ during the first three years of life. Over time, they become increasingly difficult to change.” Taking advantage of the brain’s flexibility during this time is key to helping to remediate delays. Plus, the cognitive load is a lot less when a child is 2 or 3 than when they are 9 or 10. It’s a lot easier to teach new skills when the child isn’t also trying to learn their times table.
Early intervention is important for kids who display delays in any area, but I’m a speech expert, so I’m going to focus on that. You all know that I love a good research moment, so I thought I’d use this opportunity to highlight a research article that focused on early intervention specifically as it pertains to late talkers. Buckle up, because here we go!
Title: Late Talkers: A Population-Based Study of Risk Factors and School Readiness Consequences by Hammer, Morgan, Farkas, Hillemeier, Bitetti, and Maczuga
What’s the purpose: To determine risk factors for late talkers and to determine what impact being a late talker can have on later skills.
Participants: A total of 9,600 children were studied via the Early Childhood Longitudinal study. The children fell into one of two groups – late talker (expressive language fell in the lowest 10th percentile) and children who had typical development. Data involving the child’s cognitive and behavioral functioning was taken at 9, 24, 48, and 60 months.
What’d they do?: The children were administered a bunch of tests to determine their skill levels in various areas of development. Parent interview was also used.
Results: There were a lot of results including a slew of risk factors for being a late talker.** The big take away for our early intervention focus is this – 1/4 of late talkers at age 24 months continued to have persistent vocabulary issues at 48 months. Low vocabulary knowledge at 48 months “more than tripled the odds of low reading in kindergarten and math scores in kindergarten” regardless of whether or not the child was a late talker. However, being a late talker increased the chances of having vocabulary deficits at 48 months.
What does this mean?: This has huge implications for early interventions. If vocabulary is a predictor of school readiness, and being a late talker is a risk factor for having low vocabulary knowledge, intervention in this area is necessary! As the authors put it, “Vocabulary support provided early in life would greatly enhance children’s later vocabulary development as well as their school readiness.” Regardless of being a late talker or not, enrollment in programs to help develop rich vocabularies for kiddos who struggle with this skill at 48 months early in life are critical in ensuring school readiness.
If you are concerned about your child’s speech and language development, do not hesitate to call a professional and ask for guidance. Asking questions and seeking help is never detrimental, but, as this article leads us to understand, postponing interventions can have serious affects on the child’s future learning. Your friendly, neighborhood SLP is always here to listen!
**Risk factors include: “being a boy, lower socioeconomic status, being a nonsingleton, older maternal age at birth, moderately low birth weight, lower quality parenting, receipt of day care for less than 10 hr/week, and attention problems.”