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  Early Intervention
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What is Early Intervention?

Early intervention (EI) refers to the provision of services to children that are showing first indications of an identifiable problem or are significantly at-risk of developing a problem(1). Early Intervention includes both educational and therapeutic components and is conceptualized as a systematically planned method of taking action based on the child’s needs during the first pivotal years of life. Specifically, EI applies to children of school age or younger who have or are at risk of developing a handicapping condition or other special needs that may adversely affect their development. As outlined in Odom and Wolery(4) EI encompasses a variety of activities including, but not limited to: family centered practices(5), parent implemented milieu teaching approaches(6), participation in natural learning opportunities(7), social integration interventions in inclusive settings(8), goal identification linked with learning strategies(9), professional collaboration programs(10), and parent education programs(11,12).

Child development research indicates that learning and development is most rapid in the preschool years and thus intervention should begin as early as possible to enhance the child’s development, provide support and assistance to the family and to maximize the outcomes for the child and family’s opportunities in Canadian society(13). Interventions are most effective if they are based upon empirical evidence and directly target the presenting problems(1). Clear goals must be set to overcome identified weaknesses(1).

There is quantitative and qualitative research evidence that EI impacts positively on the development and educational gains of children(14), improves family functioning(15) and provides long-term benefits to society16. The evidence indicates that the earlier the intervention, the more effective it is, that EI can substantially lower the need for specialized services later on(17), that children need fewer special education and rehabilitative services later in life, are retained less often, and sometimes can be indistinguishable from non-handicapped classmates after the intervention. With accurate early diagnosis, effective interventions and adequate supports, the lifetime cost savings can range between 50 to 75% thus cutting costs to an average of $1 million/person(2).

To be effective, Guralnick(18) found that EI must be comprehensive, intensive, extended over time, individualized and delivered directly to the child. Certain key factors are present in many programs that report the greatest efficacy, namely the age of the child at the beginning of the intervention, the intensity and amount of services provided and parent involvement. Data suggests that parents need the support and skills necessary to support their child’s special needs. Family intervention outcomes such as parents’ ability to implement the child’s program at home and reduced stress facilitate the health of the family and play a salient role in the success of a program(11,19,20). As well, highly structured programs, structural features (e.g., clearly defined objectives, frequent monitoring of goal attainment), regular use of child assessment data and monitoring and modification of instruction can increase the effectiveness and positive outcomes of EI efforts(21,19).

How many families in Canada are affected?

At least 88,098 Canadian children from 0 to 8 years of age have some type of disability due to a chronic health condition, of which developmental delay is the most common disability(1).Of the over 88,000 children with disabilities, more than 29,000 children and their families are profoundly affected by developmental disorders (e.g., Autism, Asperger disorder, Pervasive Developmental Delay, Global Developmental Delay). This may yet be an underestimate of the scope of affected families as it is often difficult to specifically identify some types of disabilities in early childhood and there are delays and under-reporting in this category(2,3) (as well, Statistics Canada excludes the Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut in deriving its’ totals).

Canadian provinces vary widely in their support of EI programs. In British Columbia, 1/3 of the cost is covered until the child is(6). Quebec funds some therapies but services are fragmented and waitlists are long. Alberta, Ontario, and Prince Edward Island cover some costs but many expenses fall upon the parents.

There are several main sources of data collection for disability research in Canada. Every five years, Statistics Canada conducts a census to provide a statistical portrait of the country’s people(22). In Canada, for small groups (such as single-parent homes and ethnic groups) the census is the only reliable source of detailed data(22). Statistics Canada collects data on children and adults with various disabilities, including developmental disabilities and delays.

The Participation and Activity Limitation Survey (PALS) is also conducted through Statistics Canada(23). The most recent survey results are from 2001. This survey is conducted on adults and children whose daily activities may be limited due to health conditions or disabilities. It is designed to identify barriers and difficulties that Canadians may face. The National Longitudinal Survey on Children and Youth (NLSCY) is also conducted by Statistics Canada biennially(24). It is a long-term study designed to follow the development of Canadian children from birth to early adulthood. Information is collected about factors affecting the social, emotional and behavioral development of children in Canada and the impact of such factors is monitored over time.

Other organizations, such as Health Canada and the Office for Disability Issues also collect information on children with disabilities in Canada. For more information on disability research and statistics in Canada, please consult the following websites:

Stats Canada
Health Canada
The Office for Disability Issues (ODI)

Population Data

The attached document provides a cursory overview of information on childhood disability in Canada and the U.S. Data was taken from Statistics Canada and the U.S. Census Bureau.

Download Population Data


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