I often get comments and emails about my job as an early intervention developmental therapist, so I thought I’d put together a post in order to address the most frequent questions I get asked.
To give you some background, I’m an early intervention (ages 0-3) developmental therapist with Indiana’s early intervention services, which is called First Steps. Each state has their own early intervention (EI) services. You can typically find out what your state’s EI services is called by Googling “(your state) early intervention”.
Sorry for the lack of photos. Blame HIPAA.
What exactly is a developmental therapist (DT)?
Here’s a good definition:
“Developmental therapists assess a child’s global development and identify specific areas of need and areas of strength. They will then develop play activities designed to help a child overcome their challenges and improve the quality their interactions in order to help them gain confidence in their own ability to learn and to acquire typical skills.” –Pediatric Resources
I specifically work with toddlers with cognitive, communication, social/emotional, and/or adaptive delays and their families in their homes. I also work with Spanish-speaking families. I’m not fluent but I can get by.
What kind of education do you need to be a DT?
This depends on your state. In Indiana, you need at least a Bachelor’s degree in early childhood education or special education with an early childhood focus. When I became a DT in 2010, you could have a Bachelor’s degree in elementary education, but they changed the rules a couple years ago– I was grandfathered in.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I’m currently on maternity leave (thank you, FMLA), but when I was working a full caseload I’d work Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. This allowed me to use Fridays to make up any canceled appointments earlier in the week. My hours varied but I’d typically have my first appointment around 8:00 or 9:00 AM and finish around 4:00 or 5:00 PM, seeing anywhere from 4 to 7 clients in a day for 1 hour sessions per child/family. Because I work in clients’ homes, I schedule my clients according to their location. It doesn’t make sense to drive back and forth across Indianapolis all day long, especially because I use my own car and have to pay for my own gas. I schedule my clients back-to-back, leaving 15 minutes in between appointments in order to travel from one house to another. I eat lunch in my car and stop in gas stations or fast food restaurants to use the restroom. Very glamourous.
What do you like best about being a DT?
Seeing kiddos make gains toward their goals is obviously the most fulfilling aspect of the job. Also, educating parents and giving them strategies and coming back the next week to hear that the strategies were helpful. Another thing I love about being an early intervention therapist with First Steps is the ability to make my own schedule. I also like the freedom of the job and not being tied down to a desk.
Working with families go through difficult situations that didn’t relate to my job as their DT is always hard. I won’t go into a lot of detail but I’ve had families where DCS was involved, family members who were battling addiction, families living in poverty, etc. I’ve also been harassed by clients. Now this is going to sound minuscule, but another con would be when I show up for a therapy session and a client won’t be home or awake so I’ll drive all the way there and basically get stood up. And the way it works for me is I don’t get paid unless I render services. So if I show up and nobody is home, I actually lose money because I waste gas driving there. Another con is when my kiddos age out at 3 years old, and I have to say goodbye to the family. I try to keep in touch with families I grow especially close to.
How do I know if my child is meeting his/her milestones?
The CDC has a good developmental milestones website (here). Your pediatrician probably has a milestones handout as well. If you’re concerned specifically about speech and want more info, ASHA (American Speech-Language-Hearing Association) has a good website (here).
I don’t think my child is meeting his/her milestones. How do I get into my state’s EI program?
The CDC has a good “If You’re Concerned” website (here). In Indiana there are two ways of getting services. Most families are referred to their local First Steps program by doctors, hospital staff, or other social service agency caseworkers. Others are “self-referrals,” contacting First Steps directly because they are concerned about apparent delays in their child’s development. So you can call your pediatrician and tell him/her you’re concerned and see what they say, or you can call your local EI services and see if they will do an evaluation.
How can I help my child reach his/her milestones?
The biggest thing I tell my families is to actively interact with their children. Put your phone down, turn off the TV, and get on the floor and play with your kiddos. Play peek-a-boo with a blanket. Cover your kiddo with the blanket. Then cover yourself with the blanket. Roll a ball back and forth. Add in language by counting to 3 before rolling the ball, say “wee!” when you roll it, or say “ready, set, go!” You don’t need a bunch of fancy, expensive toys. You’re your child’s best and probably most favorite toy. I have a Pinterest board called Infant And Toddler Activities that I’m working on adding stuff to if you’re looking for activities to do with your kiddo(s).