Speech-Language Pathologists Working in Early Childhood Intervention

By Kathleen D. Ross, MS, CCC-SLP
Author Speech-Language Pathologists in Early Childhood Intervention: Working with Infants, Toddlers, Families, and Other Care Providers

Misperceptions and questions surrounding the role of speech-language pathologists (SLPs) in various settings persist. Our title is not yet a common term within everyday households. Speech-language pathologists working in early childhood intervention are no exception to these persistent misperceptions. When SLPs are labeled as the “speech teacher” who corrects lisping, how can one possibly teach an infant to make sounds appropriately when they don’t yet make /s/? How can an SLP train a toddler to change his behavior when he has no idea that he’s responsible for his own actions and behaviors? Education and advocacy continue to be an integral part of an SLP’s role in all settings.

Early childhood intervention SLPs tend to go beyond some of the traditional roles. Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) presents a practical philosophy for working with infants and toddlers: coaching parents and caregivers to guide children to functional communication efforts within daily routines in natural settings. Guiding parents to utilize new interventions with their children within daily routines truly is best practice for this young age, who do not yet have the cognitive ability to easily generalize an isolated task learned in a clinic setting to other situations. An infant and toddler’s social world is typically small, with greatest focus on the family constellation and primary caregivers. Teaching in the moment with familiar trusted learning partners (the parents) is often the most adequate way to make the synaptic connections that create useful memories. This practical application manifests the functionality of a learned task almost instantaneously.

In early intervention, SLPs enter the lives of young children and their families to thoughtfully observe their natural interests and interactions, and to become involved in the relationships that are most central to the children. In this way, they are at ground zero if you will, at the heart of the developing child and family.

Adults recognize that infants enter the world as helpless beings, needing continual support and guidance to progress through each day. Infants seek relationships with loving adults who provide routine care and consistent positive responses to their every need. They expect and rely on those responses, developing rhythms and trust with the adults around them. But not all situations are the same, and for a variety of reasons, there are times when infants do not receive the care they need and, thus, cannot develop the daily rhythms and trust of others. SLPs become integral in coaching parents to understand and develop these rhythms with their young children. Parents learn to carefully observe and listen, then positively and consistently respond to their child’s needs. Parents and primary caregivers are guided to develop or alter behaviors with young children—shaping unwanted behaviors into positive functional skills.

Our early experiences affect who we become as adults. Acknowledging this as early interventionists allows us to unhesitatingly advocate for infants, toddlers, and families within IDEA’s Part C program. Recognizing the influence of personality, prior knowledge, birth and early experiences, and a child and family’s degree of tolerance for stresses and outside influences, is crucial for success. As SLPs, we give tools and strength to a child and family to effectively communicate their needs and wants in various situations.

Speech-language pathologists who understand the connections between social, emotional, cognitive, and communication growth—the developing whole child—will work judiciously and respectfully to collaborate with other service providers and the family to enrich the child’s life and create practical interventions. We know that young children thrive on familiar and caring positive relationships through the routines of the day. We support parents and caregivers to guide children to reach their potential as they become threeyear-olds, when they transition from Part C to Part B services, if eligibility continues. Through meticulous and developmentally appropriate evaluation to diagnosis, and maintaining ongoing assessment for up-to-date programming, we provide accurate treatment measures to match the child and family’s needs.

Each family constellation presents a unique dynamic for all service providers to consider. We need to fully comprehend how both children and families develop, and the dynamic nature of both in order to work diligently within unique parameters. Knowledgeable SLPs respect and work with cultural and linguistic differences in each family, understanding the invaluable nature of these circumstances, while also recognizing the controversial elements that may present. SLPs will provide best practice when we acknowledge these complexities, especially in the face of our own preconceptions. Each human possesses their own perspective of their world as an individual. Service providers who early on grasp the concept that diversity is what makes us human, will be most successful in working in human services.

Speech-Language Pathologists in Early Childhood Intervention: Working with Infants, Toddlers, Families and Other Care Providers by Kathleen D. Ross, aims to inform SLPs who are considering work in early intervention. The text is also intended for early interventionists and service providers who wish to know the specifics of working with infants, toddlers, and families, and collaborating with others in this specialty area. Scenarios are presented as practical application examples to reinforce concepts discussed.

The rewards within this level of care are boundless. Working with both the child and the family presents satisfaction at two age levels simultaneously. Early childhood intervention sets the base for developing communication success. Where there previously existed frustrations, we now send children and families forward with a solid base of competence to function positively within their daily lives.

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