The early childhood years are just as important for children with disabilities and developmental delays as they are for all children.
By Abha Ranjan Khanna
The recent report that “India tops list of countries having maximum kids under 5 living with disabilities”, indicates an epidemic has been simmering in India for years. In fact, WHO statistics from the Convention on the Rights of People with Disability states that 10 per cent of the world’s population are persons with disabilities (over 650 million) and approximately 80 per cent of whom live in developing countries. Only 2 per cent of children with disability in the developing world receive any education or rehabilitation.
Since the mid 80’s, inquiry in Early Childhood Development has become increasingly central to research in the developed countries. In fact, in the USA, early childhood Intervention is understood to be so critical for a child with a developmental delay and/or disability that it is mandated by law—Part C of the IDEA.
The National Scientific Council, based at the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, recently brought together several of the nation’s leading neuroscientists, developmental psychologists, pediatricians, and economists who conducted a critical review of the existing literatures in their fields and built a consensus about development in the early childhood years.
The objective of the Council is to focus on the cumulative knowledge of decades of research that has been subjected to rigorous and continuous peer review. The goal is to promote an understanding of the basic science of early childhood development, including its underlying neurobiology, to inform parents, the community and governments as well.
Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) has become a global priority because ECI prevents and reduces developmental difficulties in children, their families and community. The International Pediatric Association notes that: “The early years of life are very critical in developing later intelligence, personality, social behavior and educational achievements.” (2010)
Research is clear that the fastest and most prolific rate of development of the brain and its structures occurs in the first three years of life. This is further reinforced by the demonstration of the critical periods for developing the foundations of learning including vision, hearing, language, gross and fine motor skills, self-help adaptive skills, social skills and emotional attachment in the first five years of life. These lay the foundations for all future learning. There is recent scientific evidence to show that early experiences literally shape our lives by affecting the way the young brain develops. What happens to us in the early years has a major effect on our health and social development right through to adulthood.
Therefore, we must ensure that children’s early experiences are positive, that they have a secure foundation for development and lifelong learning.
Since early childhood intervention is child centered and family focused it builds upon adult capabilities and helps parents cope with daily challenges and stress of parenting. It builds in supports from other families and enhances the parents’ confidence and self reliance in understanding their child’s developmental needs.
Services are tailored to meet the individual needs of the child and family and focused on supporting the child in their natural environment and in their daily routine activities.
Why are early childhood intervention services important?
The early childhood years are just as important for children with disabilities and developmental delays as they are for all children. All their future development is based on the critical learning patterns laid down during this period.
The early years are also critical for the whole family. This is when families can best begin to learn how to support and nurture their child, how to meet their child’s needs, and how to adapt positively to having a child with a disability or a developmental delay.
To achieve these goals, families need the support of Early Childhood Intervention Services.
Given the alarming fact that India “India tops list of countries having maximum kids under five living with disabilities” it is crucial that public and private sectors take steps to address this epidemic immediately.
(The writer is an occupational therapist.)
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