Early Intervention Speech Therapy: Supporting a Child’s Development & Growth

Early Intervention Speech Therapy

During a child’s first few years, the brain grows so rapidly that 1 million new neural connections are formed each second.

Those who don’t gain certain speech and language skills by the ages we expect them to are considered to have a language delay. Early intervention Speech Therapy services can help.

What is Early Intervention Speech Therapy?

Early Intervention (EI) Speech Therapy refers to Speech Therapy services that are provided from birth to 3 years-old to improve delayed speech and language skills.

Research has shown that EI services, which are typically family-centered, can be highly effective at improving a child’s skills. That’s largely because the brain is more flexible during these early years, making it easier to influence.

An early intervention program can include services that address several different areas of a child’s development. For example, Speech Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, Audiology, and others.

Specialists from these disciplines evaluate the child to gain a measure of his or her skills within a specific area of development. That might include fine motor skills, play skills, gross motor skills (like crawling or walking), comprehension of language, or expressive language (such as speaking the expected number of words for their age), or kinetic skills. If the child is delayed in any area, he or she can start receiving weekly services to improve those skills.

Families should play a central role in the early intervention process, according to studies. They’re considered to be a child’s most important teachers, and their involvement can lead to more effective and efficient services.

Specifically, a child’s speech delay that is identified and treated early can lead to improved outcomes and affect lifelong learning skills.

Here’s how the need for early intervention is recognized, what to expect during sessions, and the components of EI. We’ll also take a look at some early intervention Speech Therapy goals and activities, as well as the auditory stimulation device Forbrain.

Who Needs Early Intervention Speech Therapy

Early intervention may be indicated if a child has difficulty with any of the following skills:

  • Speech & Language Skills (such as talking & listening)
  • Social-Emotional Skills (including play skills & interacting with others)
  • Physical Development (fine & gross motor skills)
  • Cognitive Skills (problem solving and learning skills)
  • Adaptive Skills (including self-help skills like dressing and bathing)

Parents should look at the expected developmental milestones for their child’s age. If the child is behind in any area, he or she might benefit from Early Intervention services.

Overall, when a child is developing language skills at a slower rate than what is expected for their age, he or she is considered to have a language delay.

Specific signs that a child has a language delay and should receive Early Intervention Speech Therapy are:

  • Delayed vocabulary (not saying as many words as they should. For example: saying less than 50 words at age 2 years)
  • Trouble understanding what other people say (such as following directions)
  • Decreased social interaction (difficulty playing or interacting with other kids (by age 2 to 3 years old)
  • Speech is hard to understand (trouble pronouncing simple, early developing sounds like b, p, m, w, h by age 2 and also g, k, t, d, f, n by age 3.
  • Stuttering (repeating the first sounds in a word or the whole word several times, tensing their body or getting frustrated when trying to get words out)

A Speech-Language Pathologist (also known as “SLP” or Speech Therapist) can also provide early intervention to improve a child’s feeding skills. This might be indicated if the child is eating a limited variety of foods (picky eating), having behaviors that interfere with eating enough food at mealtime to receive adequate nutrition, or is showing signs of dysphagia, difficulties chewing or swallowing.

The need for early intervention services might be recognized by a child’s pediatrician, daycare/preschool teacher, or parent.

By staying tuned-in to how your child is meeting the expected milestones, you can help identify the need for speech early intervention services that can help him or her develop these important skills.

You can request your child’s pediatrician to write a referral for your local Early Intervention program. This evaluation will most likely be multidisciplinary, meaning your child may be evaluated by several specialists who will look at a variety of skills.

If delays in speech development are found, your child would likely be referred for a comprehensive evaluation by a Speech Therapist.

What to Expect in Early Intervention Sessions

Early Intervention Speech Therapy usually consists of weekly sessions that take place in the child’s home, daycare, or in a clinic.

Sessions address speech and language goals for the child that are set by the Speech Therapist. Families can stay engaged in therapy by providing input about goals.

Early intervention speech therapy goals for a child with a speech and language delay might include:

  • Increasing expressive vocabulary (saying more words)
  • Articulating certain sounds more accurately
  • Following simple directions
  • Understanding age-appropriate concepts (i.e., pointing to pictures in a book that someone asks them to, knowing the names of body parts)
  • Putting words together to say short phrases (such as “ball please” rather than just, “ball”)

The Speech Therapist (SLP) builds a rapport with the child during the first few sessions. Through play, the child becomes more comfortable and forms a positive relationship with the therapist.

Goals are targeted through fun, age-appropriate activities that keep the child motivated, including:

  • Songs
  • Crafts
  • Games and toys
  • Outdoor play

Examples of activities are:

  • The SLP gives the child a choice of which color block he or she wants. Replacing yes or no questions with choices is a strategy for increasing vocabulary.
  • The child practices imitating two-word phrases that the SLP says. For example, “go car” or “my turn”.

Families should actively participate in therapy sessions by playing along with the child and SLP. This can help you understand how to use specific therapy techniques. Then you can use the strategies at home with your child to promote their speech development.

Journey Through Early Intervention

Let’s explore the essential steps and strategies involved in providing effective support for children in their early developmental stages.

Step 1: Initial Meeting with the Service Coordinator

After getting in touch with your local Early Intervention program, you’ll be contacted or have an initial meeting with a Service Coordinator.

The Service Coordinator is your central point of contact. He or she will provide you with helpful information about services and resources available and discuss your concerns.

You’ll be asked to provide information about your areas of concern regarding your child’s development. Writing down personal notes or asking for input from others who interact with the child (such as family members or daycare teachers) can help the early intervention team identify potential areas of delays.

Your child will be scheduled for an initial, comprehensive evaluation.

Step 2: Eligibility Determination

During an evaluation, a team of specialists will ask you questions and interact with your child to assess various areas of development, including communication, motor skills, social skills, hearing and vision.

The team may administer a standardized assessment that is play-based and involves requesting your child to do things such as stack blocks, follow directions with toys, and perform other tasks.

The results of the evaluation will show whether your child is delayed, what areas he or she is behind in, and to what level of severity. If he or she meets the requirements for eligibility, your child can receive ongoing early intervention services.

Step 3: Development of an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP)

The early intervention team will collaborate to create an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP). The plan will outline which services are recommended for your child (such as Speech Therapy, Occupational Therapy, or Physical Therapy), and at what frequency.

The team will work with you to develop goals to improve the areas of development your child is delayed in. Services must begin within 30 days of the IFSP being developed.

Your service coordinator will check in at regular intervals to see how your child’s services are going. The IFSP will also be reviewed periodically, which will include an update of your child’s progress and addition of new goals as needed.

Step 4: Cultural Considerations

The therapists providing services and the rest of the Early Intervention team should make special cultural considerations while working with families. Any cultural preferences should be discussed with the family.

If the is exposed to languages other than English, services may be provided by a bilingual therapist, or with the use of interpretation. This can ensure the child is receiving therapy in their dominant language and that his or her family can participate.


Components of Early Intervention

The components of early intervention encompass a range of crucial elements that work together to provide comprehensive support and assistance to young children with developmental delays or disabilities. Here are the main ones.

Cognitive Skills

Cognitive skills are the skills an individual’s brain uses to complete various tasks. This includes organization, planning, reasoning, learning, and problem-solving. The development of these skills is assessed and may be treated as part of an early intervention program.

Communication Skills

Communication skills include receptive (listening and understanding) and expressive language skills. These are skills that individuals use to communicate wants, needs, and thoughts through gestures and talking. Communication skills are a critical component to later academic skills.

Physical and Sensory Skills

Physical skills can be broken down into fine motor skills (movements made by small muscle groups like fingers) and gross motor skills (movements of larger muscles such as crawling, walking and climbing). These skills help a child move functionally around their environment and explore the world around them.

Vision and hearing abilities should be assessed as part of an Early Intervention program to ensure a child has functional skills in these areas.

An individual’s body takes in information from different senses (such as touch, movement, and seeing), and processes them appropriately. Children who have difficulties with this may have a sensory processing disorder.

Social-Emotional Skills

Play skills are the building blocks of developing several other skills. It’s important for children to learn how to understand and process emotions appropriately, and socially interact with others.

Adaptive or Self-Help Skills

These include everyday activities such as eating, bathing, dressing, and other self-care abilities. A child who has trouble using utensils or getting dressed, depending on their age, could be considered delayed in this area.

Parents play a key role in the early intervention process, and can help their child make more progress towards improving their developmental skills, such as speech and language. Here are some suggested activities to practice during at home:

Singing songs

Sing age-appropriate songs like The Itsy Bitsy Spider. Use the accompanying gestures and encourage your child to imitate them. Once the song is familiar to your child, pause during the song and look expectantly at your child, waiting for him or her to fill in the blank with a word from the song.

Sensory Play

Make an at-home sensory bin by filling a small container with uncooked rice or beans. Hide different objects or toys inside. Encourage your child to feel around and then name the items he or she finds. Give your child simple directions to follow, like “take out” or “put in” different objects.

Bath Time

Model simple words over and over, such as on, off, in, out as you and your child play with bath toys. Ask your child to point to body parts you name before washing them. Use descriptive words like wet and dry to expand your child’s vocabulary.

Outdoor Play

Take turns saying short phrases to describe what you see while on a walk. For example, “I see birds.” Children are expected to use 3 word phrases like this at age 3.

Snack Time

Give your child just small amount of their snack. Encourage him or her to sign or say “more”, and then give more of the snack.

Book Reading

Ask your child to point out different pictures that you name. Hold the book by your face so your child can watch your mouth to see how you pronounce certain sounds.

Benefits of Forbrain in Early Intervention Speech Therapy

Forbrain can be incorporated into early intervention programs by training the brain to process sensory information more effectively.

Forbrain is a research-backed device that analyzes and enhances your voice, amplifying frequencies and rhythm through a dynamic filter. The headphones transmit the sounds back to you.

Professionals like Speech Therapists can use Forbrain can accelerate speech and language development, improve articulation, enhance auditory processing, and boost overall communication skills.

Parents can continue working on improving their child’s speech and language skills by using ForBrain at home.

Final Words

Early Intervention is critical to a child’s development if he or she is delayed in speech and language development, motor skills, or other areas. Parents and caregivers should keep close watch of their child’s skills and compare them to the expected milestones to see if they are on track. Families should seek help promptly if they have concerns about their child’s development. The first few years of a child’s life are incredibly important, and early intervention services can be effective at creating a positive, lasting impact on a child’s future growth and well-being.


Badawieh, M., Al-Shamsi, A., (2023) . The factors that impact the Speech delay in the first three years of a child’s life, Journal of Language and Linguistic Studies, 19(1), 13-20; 2023.

Mary Pat Moeller; Early Intervention and Language Development in Children Who Are Deaf and Hard of Hearing. Pediatrics September 2000; 106 (3): e43. 10.1542/peds.106.3.e43

Pia R Britto, Stephen J Lye, Kerrie Proulx, Aisha K Yousafzai, Stephen G Matthews, Tyler Vaivada, Rafael Perez-Escamilla, Nirmala Rao, Patrick Ip, Lia C H Fernald, Harriet MacMillan, Mark Hanson, Theodore D Wachs, Haogen Yao, Hirokazu Yoshikawa, Adrian Cerezo, James F Leckman, Zulfiqar A Bhutta, Nurturing care: promoting early childhood development, The Lancet, Volume 389, Issue 10064, 2017; Pages 91-102, ISSN 0140-6736

Amy Yacoub

Amy Yacoub, MS, CCC-SLP is a Speech-Language Pathologist. She has over 12 years of experience working with children who have a variety of diagnoses and disorders, including speech and language delays, Childhood Apraxia of Speech, and Autism. She is also an experienced consultant within the field.