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Early Intervention and Telehealth during the COVID-19 Crisis: A Guide for EI Providers

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 ā€“ even as they themselves are adjusting to this transition. Parents may have concerns about telehealth such as ā€œOne hour is too long for my little one to sit in front of a screenā€ and ā€œHaving an online session is stressful, why canā€™t EI services just wait until this pandemic is over?ā€

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 pointsā€”backed by the science of child developmentā€”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:Ā 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 anĀ important timeĀ for setting foundational behaviors for later developmental growth. Childrenā€™s interactions with parents and other adults at this stage can set them up to be better prepared forĀ learning at school. Early experiences with play can also help children to develop healthy social and emotional skills.

How can EI providers can use this talking point with families:
Telehealth gives providers the opportunity to notice the childā€™s play behaviors in their home with parents. Seeing these natural interactions allows EI providers to help parents tailor their childā€™s play experiences to optimize developmental progress and school readiness. In your sessions with parents, ask questions about the parentā€™s goals for their child and the familyā€™s values. Listening to parentsā€™ 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.Ā Reflective practicesĀ at theĀ EI agency levelĀ 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 childā€™s routine. If you are now thinking about starting EI services, building routines can help you and your child cope during stressful times.Ā StructureĀ helps children feel supported and can help them build confidence because they know what to expect.

How can EI providers can use this talking point with families:
EI providers can work with families to develop aĀ daily routineĀ 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 oneā€™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 childrenĀ mutuallyĀ influence each other across early childhood. This means that a parentā€™s behaviors can influence a childā€™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).

How can EI providers can use this talking point with families:
Some EI sessions may feel stressful for parents; however, EI providers can support them in findingĀ positive waysĀ 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 childrenĀ positive attentionā€”by redirecting behaviors, encouragingĀ consequences, or taking breaksā€”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 childā€™s future.Ā Economists have found that every dollar spent on early childhood services, such as EI, can save society up to $7.30 later on.

How can EI providers can use this talking point with families:
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.

How can EI providers can use this talking point with families:
Switching to telehealth means thereā€™s more of an opportunity for providers to offerĀ parent coachingĀ and to be a social support for families. EI providers can dedicate some time within each session to support parentsā€™ 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.

Additional Resources

For parenting resources during this time, visit ZERO TO THREEā€™sĀ Tips for Families: CoronavirusĀ page.

For EI specific resources, please visit ZERO TO THREEā€™s partner theĀ Division for Early Childhood (DEC) of the Council for ExceptionalĀ Children.

For early childhood professionals resources during this time, visit ZERO TO THREEā€™sĀ Coronavirus Resources for Early Childhood ProfessionalsĀ page.

For other helpful resources, visit theĀ Parenting for LifelongĀ 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.

The views expressed in these materials represent the opinions of the respective authors. Publication of these materials does not constitute an endorsement by ZERO TO THREE and ZERO TO THREE expressly disclaims any liability arising from any inaccuracy or misstatement. Use of these materials is voluntary and their use does not confer any professional credentials or qualification to take any registration, certification, board or licensure examination, and neither confers nor infers competency to perform any related professional functions. None of the information provided is intended as medical or other professional advice for individual conditions or treatment nor does it replace the need for services provided by medical or other professionals, or independent determinations, made by professionals in individual situations. The user of these materials is solely responsible for compliance with all relevant regulations or licensing requirements. These materials are not intended to be used as a compliance guide and are not intended to supplant or to be used as a substitute for or in contravention of any applicable regulations or licensing requirements. ZERO TO THREE expressly disclaims any liability arising from use of theseĀ materials.


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