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).
Thanks for this post! My son is currently going through our states early intervention program because he wasn’t talking at 2 years old. Our speech therapist has helped him and us so much I can’t thank her enough. She’s helped us so much and not just with him talking but with everything. He’s not where he needs to be yet, but in the 3 months he has improved so much! What you do for your “kids” is so wonderful and I hope you know that there are lots of parents (like me & my hubby) that will be forever grateful for all of your help!
Thank you for posting this. My children do not have difficulties but I know friends whose kids do. It’s true about getting down with your kiddos and just playing, they love it so much. I believe kids learn by play, of course also teaching them the basics. I was a teacher before I became a SAHM and often saw kids that arrived at school with a tablet in their hands and cry when the parent took it away because it was time for school. I would be the one who needed to redirect that child to something else at the same time trying to calm them down. So heartbreaking. Just this afternoon while at lunch with my boys, I noticed the table sitting next to us had their child sitting in a high chair and a portable DVD player with a movie on. It just made me so mad, maybe it shouldn’t have but it did.
From one Early Interventionist to another, wonderful post! I’m a SLP in EI in Connecticut right by the Rhode Island border. Your strategies to parents sound so familiar. I must repeat them constantly!
Love this post! My first degree (I’m a nurse now) was in Family & Community Services and I took a lot of classes that prepped students for this kind of work. I worked in health education, but always had an interest in EI, it makes such a difference in the lives of so many kids and families!
I stumbled upon this post via Instagram. How did you get in to this field? I am currently a first grade teacher and taught special ed last year. Your job sounds so appealing! How would you suggest getting in to your field (any extra training, etc). Thanks so much! Love your blog 🙂
Thanks! A friend was a former DT and told me about it. I went through extra training through my state to be certified. You’ll have to look into your state’s early intervention program to learn their requirements.
Hello from Indianapolis. Both of my sons went through First Steps from age 15 months until 3 years old for speech. I sure wish I could have met you!
I love your blog. I follow you on Facebook and Instagram as well. Please just jeep on blogging. I love your education posts.
Duh! Not education posts…organization posts.
Hi, Kelly! I hope your kiddos had a lot of success with First Steps! It’s such a great program, but I’m obviously biased. 🙂 I’m so glad you enjoy the blog!
I stumbled upon this post today…. I just found your blog and I am IN LOVE – so of course, I was creeping through checking out some of your older stuff. I just wanted to say…. my son was in the Early Steps program (EI in Florida), and while it was kind of a process to finally get in, it was worth it! At around 18 months, I had concerns that he wasn’t speaking much at all – failing to TRY to speak, not minicing any sounds, etc. We talked to our pediatrician about it who didn’t think there was anything to be concerned about (yet), but agreed to refer us to a speech therapist for an evaluation. He also told us to look into the Early Steps program through the state because it would take a while (months) before we would get in to even be evaluated. A few months later, we started speech services and both my son and I were in love with our therapists…. he was only in speech for about 6 months, and made such tremendous advances – at the prompting of one of our therapists, he was re-evaluated and scored as “advanced” and thus “discharged” from the program. Both therapists have told me that they didn’t think it was anything they did that helped, but that it was just nature taking over, but either way, they held our hands and guided us through such a stressful/dark time and I will forever be grateful for them and people like you who do this for a living. It’s about more than just the services that they provide, it’s the emotional support and guidance they give to the families as well as the love they truly pour into their jobs. So from an Early Intervention Mama….. THANK YOU FOR ALL YOU DO FOR OUR BABIES!
I love this post! I stumbled upon this as I was looking into a career change. I am currently a lower elementary teacher with a degree I. Early childhood education. I am very interested in a position like this. Any suggestions on how to go about making this happen? Would I go through first steps? Any help/suggestions you can give would be great!
Hello! I am considering getting my credentials in Illinois. I want to know, how do I go about obtaining my consultation hours. I want to learn all that I can before I really start working gone on on with the kiddos. Thanks!
Hello! I found your blog through DIY projects (love your style – so similar to mine and I’ve done several of your projects!) and saw that you are a DT. I’m about to graduate as an SLP and will be entering the EI field in Illinois! Just wanted to stop by and say hello 🙂
Congrats! EI SLP is a great field to get into, especially if you can speak some Spanish. We’re always looking for Spanish-speaking EIs in my area. While I wasn’t close to fluent, I worked with a lot of Spanish-speaking families and kiddos. Best of luck starting your career!
Is a license required for a person to label themselves a “Developmental Therapist” in Indiana? If so, does Indiana have a license lookup online? I’m concerned about whether a person I know actually has the requirements to use this title. Thank you!!
I love your blog! I see you are a DT for first steps in Indiana. My granddaughter is waiting on a DT in first steps in Clinton County Indiana. She is 19 months old and has been waiting for three months now for DT to set up and start therapy sessions. Hope she can get started ASAP. We are getting tired of waiting and she needs the help now. She is not getting any younger. Can you help us in any way? She is already having PT sessions through first steps.