Early Intervention: Speech and Language

Speech Therapy Staff
January 26, 2017

Early intervention (EI) refers to services, education and support provided to families with children birth to three, with disabilities, delays, or at risk of developing a disability that can affect their development or impede their education.

Overview of early intervention

The goal of EI is to provide support to families to help their children grow to their greatest potential. The services are designed to identify and meet a child’s needs in five developmental domains, including physical development, cognitive development, communication, social or emotional development, and adaptive development. Although services vary by state, they can include speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, educational services and family counseling.

Although services vary by state, they can include speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, educational services and family counseling. EI programs and services can be received in a variety of settings. However, these settings must be considered a natural environment, such as in the home or in the community, where children without disabilities or delays can participate and are embraced.

In order to be considered for EI services, which are provided to families at no cost, a child must first be evaluated prior to age 3. After their third birthday, they are no longer eligible for EI services. If services are still needed after three years, a transition in services will occur and it is then the school district’s (special education team) responsibility to determine eligibility and appropriate services.

Often times, parental concerns initially rise due to their child “not talking” or having a limited expressive vocabulary. If there is any concern regarding your child’s development or meeting developmental milestones, it important to talk to professionals such as your pediatrician. Talking to your child’s pediatrician and requesting a referral for an assessment is the first step! Research shows the learning takes place at a faster rate between birth and 5 years of age.

Unfortunately, parents who take the “wait and see” approach, 75% of their children with communication difficulties go undetected until they enter kindergarten and are 5 years old.

Research Findings

Studies examining the effectiveness of EI found:

  • Early childhood programs can benefit children on intelligence quotient (IQ) and demonstrate sizable long-term effects on school achievement, grade retention, placement in special education, and social adjustment.
  • Late talkers have demonstrated gains in expressive vocabulary size and use, utterance length and socialization skills.
  • Between 25 and 50% of children receiving intensive EI will move into general education by Kindergarten and many others will need significantly less service provision in future years service provision in future years.

How do I support my child’s communication development?

Birth to One Year:

  • Check your child’s hearing ability pay attention to ear problems and infections, especially when they are reoccurring.
  • Reward and reinforce your baby’s communication attempts by looking, listening and imitating their vocalizations.
  • Teach your baby to imitate facial expressions, actions such as peek-a-boo, clapping, blowing kisses and waving. These games teach turn-taking which facilitates later developing skills to engage in conversation.
  • Talk about what you and your baby are doing, such as bathing, feeding (e.g., “Mommy is putting on Marie’s socks”; “Marie is eating a banana”).
  • Teach animal sounds (e.g., A sheep says ‘ba ba’”).

One to Two Years:

  • Talk while doing things and going places. For example, point out and label familiar objects like a cat. Provide language that is simple and concrete.  “I see a cat.” “A cat says meow.”
  • Use simple speech, phrases, and sentences that can be understood and imitated by your child.
  • Expand on words. If you child say’s “baby,” respond by saying, “Yes! The baby is crying.”
  • READ, READ, READ!! Find books with large print and pictures. Name the objects and describe the pictures. Use simple phrases on sentences on each page. You don’t have to read the actual text, since it may be too long or use abstract language.
  • Ask your child to point to named pictures.
  • Ask your child to name the picture. If they don’t, name it for them!

Two to Three Years:

  • Model clear and simple speech and easy enough for your child to imitate.
  • Attend to your child and show that you are interested in what he or she has said and expand on it.
  • Repair communication breakdowns. Let your child know that what have said is important and ask them to repeat information you could not understand.
  • Expand your child’s receptive vocabulary by labeling objects and pictures in books and providing synonyms for familiar words.
  • Sing songs, tell nursery rhymes and play finger games. These activities introduce rhythm and the sounds of language as well as promote literacy development.
  • Look at family photos and describe what is happening. Write simple and appropriate phrases under the pictures. This helps your child understand that reading is spoken language print.
  • Give the child choices and use open-ended questions rather than asking yes/no questions. For example, ask “Do you want juice or water?” or “What do you want?” rather than “Do you want juice? Do you want water?”


Barnett, W. S. (1995). Long-term effects of early childhood programs on cognitive and school outcomes. The Future of Children, 5 (3), 25-50.

Eichten, P.  (2000).  Help me talk: A parents’ guide to speech and language stimulation techniques for children 1 to 3 years (2nd ed).  Richmond, VA: PI Communication Materials, Inc.


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