Developing the IFSP:
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Evidence for providing family/child supports and services in natural
Providing evidence-based practice is
now an expected responsibility in multiple professions including early
intervention, medicine, occupational
and physical therapy, speech-language pathology, nursing, education,
and mental health.
Evidence-based practices help
early intervention providers make sound decisions about what they can
do to support families in achieving their desired outcomes for their
children (Dunst, Trivette, & Cutspec, 2002).
The following points summarize why it is important to provide family/child
supports and services in natural environments. Additional information
is available on an excellent website highlighting evidence-based early
childhood practices for parents, providers and researchers posted by The
Research and Training Center on Early Childhood Development.
- A child’s relationships with primary caregivers organizes
all his or her early development.
"The idea is that we are born to form attachments, that our brains
are physically wired to develop in tandem with another’s, through
emotional communication, beginning before words are spoken.” (Schore,
Young children need a relationship with at least one emotionally
invested, predictable caregiver who is available to the child and
to provide meaningful stimulation through daily experiences. A strong,
secure attachment to a nurturing caregiver also has a protective biological
function, helping a young child learn from, and withstand, the ordinary
stresses of daily life. Repeated positive care-giving experiences make
a decisive impact on a baby’s brain development across all areas
of development. Extensive research in early child development and learning,
reviewed in From
neighborhoods to neurons: The science of early childhood development emphasizes
- importance of early life experiences, as well as the inseparable
and highly interactive influences of genetics and environment, on the
development of the brain and the unfolding of human behavior;
- central role of early relationships as a source of either support
and adaptation or risk and dysfunction;
- powerful capabilities, complex emotions, and essential social
skills that develop during the earliest years of life; and
- capacity to increase the odds of favorable developmental
outcomes through planned interventions. (National Research Council & Institute
of Medicine, 2000, p. 1).
- Children are active participants in their own development, based
on their drive to explore and master their environment.
"Given the drive of young children to master their world, most
developmentalists agree that the full range of early childhood competencies
can be achieved in typical, everyday environments….All forms of
early childhood intervention are most effective when they counteract
obstacles to growth and promote the expression of a child’s natural
drive toward mastery.” (National Research Council, 2000, p.27)
Infants are aware of the effects of their own behaviors, and prefer
consequences that they can control directly versus those that are uncontrollable.
A young child’s ability to create his or her own knowledge depends
on having an environment which provides opportunities for growth and
supports individual interests. Learning is enhanced when children’s
interests engage them in interactions that provide opportunities to practice
existing skills and explore their environment. Finally, when early intervention
is provided in a family’s environment compared to unfamiliar
settings such as clinics and intervention centers, the opportunities
for parents to be more effective interacting with their children at
- New motor and communication behaviors are learned and used when
a child has repeated opportunities for practice in meaningful situations
with generalization of skills across different settings.
Motor behaviors must be retained and used in different contexts in
order to be considered “learned” to use spontaneously in
response to specific demands in different environments. Even when a
child is taught
specific motor or communication skills during a traditional intervention
session, he or she must then practice these skills over and over in
real life settings in order to use the skill competently.
"A child who learns to walk between parallel bars, on a balance
beam, or in a quiet therapy room, for example, must transfer or generalize
to walking on a carpet at home or in a crowded hallway at school if walking
is to be meaningful.” (McEwen & Shelden, 1995, p.35)
Fundamental motor learning principles include promoting age-appropriate
functional tasks, embedding movement within a physical and sociocultural
environment, and fostering active exploration of the environment. Meaningful
input across multiple domains of development, not just in motor or
language areas, is also critical and encourages a young child’s learning.
Such learning occurs in the context of an ongoing care-giving relationship
and dramatically improves a child’s memory of the action/event
and provides a framework for updating it.
- The knowledge and resources of early childhood specialists
can be shared with a child’s key caregivers through adult-adult
relationships that support caregivers in their daily roles and responsibilities
for their children.
Supporting and increasing the knowledge of those who spend the most
time with very young children-- parents, brothers and sisters, friends,
extended family, child care providers-- enhances the impact of early
intervention. Strategies implemented at home or child care by family
members and other care-givers can lead to generalization of a child’s
emerging skills in various family and community activities. Information
embedded in an emotional context appears to stimulate neuronal circuitry
more powerfully than information presented in isolation of a meaningful
context. For very young children, relationships with key caregivers provide
ongoing and numerous opportunities for learning within an emotional context.
For example, a child who becomes interested in letters and words through
daily reading with a parent and associates “the joy of being in
her father’s lap, seeing beautiful pictures, and hearing a wonderful
story” is more likely to understand the meaning of letters than
a child who is taught to recite the letters of the alphabet by rote
(National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 2000, p.156).
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