Early Childhood Intervention
Specialized skills training
Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) is a statewide program within the Texas Health and Human Services Commission for families with children birth to age 3 who have a developmental delay or disability. ECI services include occupational, physical, and speech therapies as well as specialized skills training (SST), which focuses on optimizing a child’s global development.
SST, a service offered exclusively by ECI, aims to reduce a child’s functional limitations across developmental areas. This means strengthening a child’s cognitive skills, positive behaviors, and social interactions.
The service can help parents or other caregivers such as relatives, teachers, and child care providers identify ways to enhance a child’s development—especially cognitive and social skills—through common daily activities where the child typically spends time. There is no richer learning environment than an infant’s or toddler’s home or care setting and no better teachers than parents, extended family, siblings, or other caregivers.
Cognitive and social skills
Research demonstrates that the brain is the most malleable or plastic during the infant and toddler years. Because of this, every interaction and every environment a child experiences is an opportunity for growth and development. SST helps parents and other caregivers identify opportunities for enriching interactions to enhance learning.
Cognitive development begins in infancy. For example, infants naturally kick out the legs while lying in a crib. A mobile hanging overhead moves and perhaps makes sounds. The baby sees, hears, or feels something happen that captivates interest. After several repetitions, the baby learns that the kicking action causes the mobile to move. This early learning of cause-and-effect is a building block for more complex tasks. Family members share in the excitement. The baby enjoys this interaction and attention and wants to repeat it. Such positive early experiences support cognitive development and lifelong learning traits such as curiosity and persistence.
The SST service is provided by an early intervention specialist who has been credentialed by the ECI program. This person is credentialed in the following areas:
infant and toddler development, both typical and atypical patterns;
early childhood cognition, motivation, and learning;
typical infant and toddler behavior and challenging behaviors (biting, tantrums, picky eating, sleep issues);
infant and toddler social interactions; and
the interconnection of developmental areas.
Children with developmental delays or disabilities often need assistance to enhance their development. Through SST, the early intervention specialist teaches parents or other caregivers to support the child’s cognitive development in everyday activities that promote cause-and-effect learning, attention, and adjustment to changed demands.
What does this look like? For example, when a child is having problems with transitions, the early intervention specialist may suggest a timer or song to cue the child to anticipate a change from one activity to another. As the family or caregivers try this solution, the early intervention specialist supports them and asks for feedback about how it is working. Sometimes this means that they may try several strategies to find the right fit.
The development of cognitive functions is strongly linked to social and emotional development in young children. Consequently, a positive relationship with primary caregivers is essential. The focus of all early intervention services is to create positive working relationships with families that will support the parent and child relationship and promote development across domains.
For more information, visit the ECI website at https://hhs.texas.gov/services/disability/early-childhood-intervention-services.