The use of early intervention programmes for children with special needs is not a foreign concept to parents. In Singapore, services in the form of Kindergartens and Childcare Centres began as early as in the 70s and 80s. Over the years, these services have changed and improved vastly.
What is Early Intervention Today?
While there used to be little or no distinction between services for children with and without special needs, Early Intervention today refers mostly to services and supports given to babies, infants, and toddlers from birth up to 6 years of age, who are at risk of developmental delays and disabilities. Based on the needs and circumstances, these services can also be extended to the families of the enrolled child.
Public programmes in Singapore include Early Intervention Programmes for Infants and Children (EIPIC) in various VWO-run centres across the country. These education programmes use intervention strategies to help children create and carry out daily routines and self-management skills such as washing hands, toileting, eating and dressing. EIPIC programmes also teach the child motor skills, communication and social skills, self-help and cognitive skills as well as other classroom-readiness skills. Generally, EIPIC programmes are helpful in aiding children to successfully enroll and transit into special schools or regular mainstream primary schools. In 2022, the Inclusive Support Programme will be piloted so as to provide early intervention services within the confines of seven public preschools around Singapore.
Outside of the public domain, private services are also available, in the form of inclusive preschools, and early intervention services such as educational therapy, speech and language, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and so on.
Why is Early Intervention Important?
Early Intervention has been found to influence, impact and increase the overall outcome and success of children who have special needs or those at risk of developmental delays. Studies have found that brain developments, including brain structures and neural connections, are most adaptable and malleable to changes early on in life. Interventions provided at this early stage can influence the physical brain structures and their functions, as well as neural changes and adaptations, helping children with special needs prevent or manage delays before they occur in their later years.
Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to restructure, reorganize and modify the connections within it. Although the brain continues to develop up to age 25, the peak of the brain’s energy consumption and development is between birth and 6 years old. This means that positive outcomes from early interventions at this age can increase the likelihood of them lasting into childhood and beyond.
In addition, the milestone delays and gaps in children with special needs are smaller when compared to their neurotypical peers in the early years of their lives. As they grow older, these gaps also get bigger. Therefore, beginning interventions early can help to bridge these gaps more easily and more successfully.
What Next ?
Instead of thinking “Nature vs Nurture”, we prefer to think “Nature and Nurture”. It is possible for us to influence, impact, and increase success in the outcomes of our children with special needs through early intervention. More importantly, parents and educators must seize the early years where the forming and reforming of neural pathways and is most constant and rapid.
Interested in learning about the benefits of enrichment classes for young children with special needs? Read more here!