Early Intervention applies to children of school age or younger who are discovered to have or be at risk of developing a handicapping condition or other special needs that may affect their development. Early Intervention consists in the provision of services to children and their families for the purpose of lessening the effects of the condition. Early Intervention can be remedial or preventive in nature—remediating existing developmental problems or preventing their occurrence.

Early Intervention may focus on the child alone or on the child and the family together. Early Intervention programs may be center-based, home-based, hospital-based, or a combination. Services range from identification—that is, hospital or school screening and referral services—to diagnostic and direct Intervention programs. Early Intervention may begin at any time between birth and school age; however, there are many reasons for it to begin as early as possible.


After nearly 50 years of research, there is evidence—both quantitive (data-based) and qualitative (reports of parents and teachers)—that Early Intervention increases the developmental and educational gains for the child, improves the functioning of the family, and reaps long-term benefits for society. Early Intervention has been shown to result in the child: (a) needing fewer special education and other habilitative services later in life; (b) being retained in grade less often; and (c) in some cases being indistinguishable from non-handicapped classmates years after Intervention.

Disadvantaged and gifted preschool-aged children benefit from Early Intervention as well. Longitudinal data on disadvantaged children who had participated in the Ypsilanti Perry Preschool Project showed that they had maintained significant gains at age 19 (Burrueta-Clement, Schweinhart, Barnett, Epstein, Weikart, 1984). These children were more committed to schooling and more of them finished high school and went on to postsecondary programs and employment than children who did not attend preschool. They scored higher on reading, arithmetic, and language achievement tests at all grade levels; showed a 50% reduction in the need for special education services through the end of high school; and showed fewer anti- social or delinquent behaviors outside of school. Karnes (1983) asserts that underachievement in the gifted child may be prevented by early identification and appropriate programming.



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