My Take on Early Intervention

I’ve been wanting for a while to write a piece on our experience with Early Intervention (EI). Because it sounds like a no-brainer, right? You have a kid with delays; you go to EI. Not necessarily. Many people choose to opt out of EI or to pick and choose their services. And truly, it’s a very personal decision, and each family has to decide what’s right for them. But in case anyone out there is reading and wondering what the benefits of EI might be, I figured I’d share our experience.

Let me start off by addressing the other side of the issue—why wouldn’t a family use EI services? They’re usually free or heavily discounted (depending on where you live), so why not? Well, a lot of families feel as if they don’t get any added benefit from EI services—what the occupational therapist (OT), physical therapist (PT), and speech therapist (ST) would work on are the same things the parents and siblings can work on at home. So why clutter up their schedule with weekly appointments? And honestly, this is a very valid viewpoint. Many families have more than one child, which means many weekly commitments. Adding three (or more) extra appointments per week is a lot and may put unnecessary strain on the family’s schedule. And a strained family is no good for anyone.

And some families take it upon themselves to do the therapy activities with no outside assistance. There are some useful books available specifically addressing how to work on gross-motor and fine-motor skills in children with Down syndrome, for example. And tons of books available on speech therapy! Some parents I’ve met are incredibly well-researched in these therapies and are doing plenty for their children on their own. Which brings me to my answer about why we use EI:

I am not that kind of mother.

There, I said it. I’m not that kind of mother. I research things until I’m blue in the face, but it doesn’t come naturally to me to put some of these things into practice. That’s not to say I couldn’t or wouldn’t—it just doesn’t come naturally to me.

The way I see it, you can broadly divide mothers (or fathers, I suppose—but I’m just going to talk about mothers, since that’s my gender and role!) into two categories. One is the mothers who do edifying and/or therapeutic activities with their kids. I think of these mothers like I think of preschool teachers. Throughout the day, they make it a point to sit down and string beads with their children to work on fine-motor control. Or they get out lined paper and cheerfully say, “Let’s practice writing our letters, shall we?” Or they put together an obstacle course for their kids to practice those ever-important gross-motor skills of climbing, jumping, balancing, etc. Or they get out scissors and paper and have their children cut out snowflakes to practice proper scissor grip. Or they haul out the tweezers and cotton balls for some more fine-motor pickup practice.

These are all good things. They are also things that I don’t do. I could do them, if I stopped and thought about it, but it doesn’t come naturally to me. I’m the other kind of mother.

I’m the mother who sees a nice day and says, “Let’s take a walk!” or “Let’s go to the park!” or “Let’s wash the car.” I’m the mother who recruits her kids to help make brownies, simply because I want some chocolate. I’m the mother who will sit outside and fill up water balloons because throwing them against the fence keeps her son content and occupied for at least 30 minutes. I’m the mother who will happily buy her kid a preschool workbook full of fun activities—but will then promptly forget to ever have him do them.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being either kind of mother. They’re just different. My own mother was like me: We didn’t sit down and work on writing or reading or anything motor-related, but she’d always give me paper and crayons if I felt like drawing. She’d recruit me to help with the laundry, and we’d make up silly songs while stuffing balloons in the clean clothes to make them float like “people.” She’d let me go outside to play with my friends pretty much whenever I wanted. And you know what? It was fun, and I didn’t suffer for it. There’s nothing wrong with not being the mom who remembers to work on academic prep and motor skills and all that—you just have to realize what kind of mom you are and what your limitations are.

So, knowing that I’m not the type of mom to remember to sit down with Sam every day and work on his crayon grasp, I take advantage of the services offered by Early Intervention. I let someone else teach him how to do specific tasks like stack five blocks on top of one another. And then, because he’s now interested in stacking blocks and wants to do it, I will sit and watch him stack and encourage him, and make my own stacks. In other words, I do the “homework” they give us, but I also recognize that Sam’s EI teachers and therapists are the ones who, in our case, are good at recognizing what he has accomplished and what that leads into next. And I follow their lead.

Sam started out with EI services at home—once a week for infant development and for physical therapy, and then eventually once a week for speech. When he was 25 months old, I finally cut the apron strings and sent him to a site-based program. It’s all of five minutes from our house, and I drop him off in his classroom every morning, five mornings a week. He charges in happily, launches himself into the arms of his teacher for a big hug, and then proceeds to greet everyone who comes in. He barely even says goodbye when I leave, though he’s always happy to see me when I arrive to pick him up after lunch. Lately, though, after giving me a big, happy hug, he trots right back over to a table and sits down, refusing to move, because he doesn’t want to leave. He likes it there, with the crafts and the songs and the other kids and the books and the playground and the swings and the sensory activities. In fact, he loves it. And I feel good about it because every day I get a verbal report of what he has done from his teacher, so I can follow up on those things at home. Oh, he’s trying to pull up his own pants now? Great, we’ll work on that at home! What? You say he ate a piece of apple?! Awesome—we’ll try it at home!

Because I can do that. I may not be the mom who dreams up these great, Pinterest-worthy therapeutic activities and snacks, but I am the mom who can listen to someone else who tried it and say, “Okay, we can follow up on that at home.” And really, I think Sam benefits from it. It’s good for him to have someone (several someones, actually) whose job  it is to think of all of these therapeutic activities. And then it’s also good for him to have a mama who doesn’t have the pressure of having to dream all of that up, and who can instead focus on just being his mama. Who can just sing “Slippery Fish” five times in a row instead of saying, “No, Sam, now we need to work on your pincer grasp! Let’s get the tweezers!”

So if you’re the super-creative preschool-teacher type of mom who can do it all on your own, I honestly salute you. You’re one up on me there. But if you’re not—if you’re like me, and being a mom comes naturally but being a therapist doesn’t—then you might find EI to be a godsend…for you and your kiddo.

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