Early Intervention and Telehealth during the COVID-19 Crisis: A Guide for EI Providers
These talking points support conversations between Early Intervention providers and parents on the importance of children receiving EI services during this time.
by Alison Chavez, MA
The COVID-19 crisis has created stress, uncertainty, and anxiety for many families and Early Intervention (EI) providers. As EI services move to telehealth across the United States, EI providers may notice a variety of reactions from parents and caregivers who are adjusting to the change in service delivery – even as they themselves are adjusting to this transition. Parents may have concerns about telehealth such as “One hour is too long for my little one to sit in front of a screen” and “Having an online session is stressful, why can’t EI services just wait until this pandemic is over?”
The purpose of this article and the accompanying handout is to support conversations between EI providers and parents on the importance of children receiving EI services during this time. Here are some talking points—backed by the science of child development—on why continuing with EI services or beginning EI services may be a good idea for many families. We also present different strategies that EI providers can use to share this information with families.
The suggested talking points below can be used with the accompanying resource: Why Tele-Early Intervention is a Great Idea for Your Family
The first 3 years are a time of rapid developmental progress for children.
The years from birth to 3 are an important time for setting foundational behaviors for later developmental growth. Children’s interactions with parents and other adults at this stage can set them up to be better prepared for learning at school. Early experiences with play can also help children to develop healthy social and emotional skills.
Telehealth gives providers the opportunity to notice the child’s play behaviors in their home with parents. Seeing these natural interactions allows EI providers to help parents tailor their child’s play experiences to optimize developmental progress and school readiness. In your sessions with parents, ask questions about the parent’s goals for their child and the family’s values. Listening to parents’ expectations and consulting with colleagues or supervisors at your EI agency can help you collaborate with parents to working toward shared goals for the child. Reflective practices at the EI agency level can help you, as the provider, reach these goals.
Keeping structure is helpful for children.
If your child was in EI services, consider those a part of your child’s routine. If you are now thinking about starting EI services, building routines can help you and your child cope during stressful times. Structure helps children feel supported and can help them build confidence because they know what to expect.
EI providers can work with families to develop a daily routine that is consistent but flexible. EI providers can work with parents to create a visual schedule to let their child know what to expect in a day. A schedule can include structured activities, like having an EI session, and unstructured ones, like free play time. Schedules should include basic activities of living, like getting dressed and brushing one’s teeth. EI providers can help parents think about what activities may be good for each child, such as exercise times for energetic kids.
Improve your relationship with your child, which may lessen some of your stress during this time.
Science tells us that parents and children mutually influence each other across early childhood. This means that a parent’s behaviors can influence a child’s behaviors and vice versa. This mutual influence can be particularly important during times of stress. EI providers can support you in finding positive ways to interact with your child, which may decrease your stress related to family life (and may even result in your child showing more positive behaviors).
Some EI sessions may feel stressful for parents; however, EI providers can support them in finding positive ways to interact with their child. Providers can introduce EI sessions to parents as a one-on-one time with their child that is being supported by a professional. EI providers can help parents think about how to give children positive attention—by redirecting behaviors, encouraging consequences, or taking breaks—while also supporting positive behaviors.
Save money, in the long run.
Finances may not be a concern for all families but consider the cost: EI is free to families in most states. After your child turns 3 years old, in most states, receiving developmental services is expensive. Consider this time as an investment in your child’s future. Economists have found that every dollar spent on early childhood services, such as EI, can save society up to $7.30 later on.
Service coordinators can remind families that they are there to plan for services after a child transitions out of the EI, to maximize development and minimize family costs.
Another resource for you, the parent.
Worried about your parenting or parenting stress level during this time? Certainly, EI providers support child development, but they also support parents and parent-child interaction. Consider your EI provider a resource for you. Ask questions. EI providers can help you get connected to other resources during this time.
Switching to telehealth means there’s more of an opportunity for providers to offer parent coaching and to be a social support for families. EI providers can dedicate some time within each session to support parents’ needs. Providers can let them know that they are not alone in parenting during this stressful time and encourage them to take breaks when children are with other caregivers or asleep.
For parenting resources during this time, visit ZERO TO THREE’s Tips for Families: Coronavirus page.
For EI specific resources, please visit ZERO TO THREE’s partner the Division for Early Childhood (DEC) of the Council for Exceptional Children.
For early childhood professionals resources during this time, visit ZERO TO THREE’s Coronavirus Resources for Early Childhood Professionals page.
For other helpful resources, visit the Parenting for Lifelong Health page where you can find infographics in more than 60 languages.
Created by Alison Chavez, MA, a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology at the University of Massachusetts Boston (UMB). With support from Alice Carter, PhD, professor of psychology at UMB.
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