Early intervention refers to educational and/or therapy programs designed for children ages birth to 3 and their families. The earlier a child receives services to address the effects of hearing loss, the more time there is to influence positive learning outcomes. It’s also a term used frequently by hearing health and education professionals who work with children with hearing loss.
In the most basic terms, a child's brain is programmed to learn foundational language skills during the first 6 years of life and the first 3 years are the most critical. After age 6, it is increasingly difficult for the human brain to acquire language and speech skills.
Any level of hearing loss can create challenges, especially in an educational environment. A child with an undetected or untreated mild to moderate hearing loss has a higher likelihood of repeating a grade than does a child with typical hearing.
Therefore, families who want their children with hearing loss to learn spoken language need to recognize that their child will need some degree of educational and habilitative intervention and start taking steps in that direction as soon as they even suspect their child has a hearing loss. The earlier the intervention, the less of the precious 6-year "window of opportunity" will be lost.
Early intervention can take many forms, such as getting children fitted for hearing aids, getting evaluated for a cochlear implant, providing counseling and support for parents, and teaching parents how to stimulate speech and language in their child.
Most states offer early intervention parent-infant programs through the local school system for families of children with disabilities up to age 3. Federal law requires that these programs are free of charge. In addition to public school programs, there may be a private parent-infant program for children with hearing loss in your community.
Early intervention programs vary from community to community, but you should understand the basic elements of an early intervention program so you know to ask for the services your child will need.