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Early Intervention Services in the NICU Graduate

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Early intervention services help the child reach their developmental potential, while also helping support the families of these young children. When babies are born too early or have a medical diagnosis necessitating intensive care, they spend a prolonged period of time in the hospital and are at risk for developmental delays. At the same time, families experience a wide range of emotions when their child is in an intensive care nursery. The initial focus tends to be on the child's medical condition before focusing on how the child will develop. Once the medical situation is stable or resolved, many families will begin to ask what their child will be like developmentally as they get older. For the majority of children there is no answer for how their prematurity or medical diagnosis will affect them. Therefore, families will experience feelings of anxiety, helplessness, and sadness. This can negatively impact the well-being of the family as well as the development of the child.

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The first 3 years of a child's life are the most important for growing, learning, and developing qualitative skills. Starting programs and services during these first 3 years may help improve developmental outcomes. It may also decrease the need for specialized services when the child is older. Studies have shown that early intervention improves cognitive outcomes for infants (birth to 12 months) and for preschool age (ages 3 to 5 years); however, it is not conclusive whether the effects of early intervention are sustained through school age. Regarding motor outcomes, the effect was small for infant and preschool age, and even less for the long term.

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The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) has key components for a comprehensive system of early intervention services. However, based on the infant's diagnoses and birth history, each program may be different in the duration and frequency of services provided, and the developmental focus. So, there is great variability among individual states with regard to early intervention services provided and it is their responsibility to provide public awareness regarding their eligibility criteria.

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Within the hospital setting, the most common types of therapy provided include physical, speech and language, occupational, and developmental. Therapy may be provided for a short period of time or ongoing depending on the needs of each child.

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Infants and toddlers with mild to moderate delays may be more difficult to identify. When the delays are not obvious to the general community, the process can be delayed. Knowing the risks associated with prematurity or a specific diagnosis can help community providers process the referral and understand the need for services based on an underlying condition, rather than wait for a developmental delay. When evaluations and treatments begin early, many delays may be resolved and decrease the need for future services.

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I. Intensive care

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In neonatal intensive care units...

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