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High Risk Infants

Intervention And Rehabilitation

The prevention of developmental disabilities starts before conception. Good nutrition and adequate prenatal care are essential components of a healthy pregnancy, assuring the best outcome for an infant, regardless of additional risk factors or disabilities. With improvements in neonatal intensive care and the care of premature infants, there is hope that the risks associated with prematurity will diminish.

Influencing development in children's lives requires a societal commitment to the prevention and rehabilitation of developmental disabilities. In 1997, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) amendments (PL 105-17) re-established the right to a free and appropriate education for all school-age children, regardless of their disability. Additionally, the federal government provides financial assistance to states for the development of early intervention programs for infants and toddlers with known developmental delays or disabilities and their families. At each state's discretion, infants and toddlers considered at risk for developmental disabilities may be enrolled in early intervention programs.

Early intervention programs are a system of therapeutic and educational programs that work with an infant or young child, from birth to age three, and their family to prevent or minimize adverse developmental outcomes for that child. An infant-toddler specialist typically assists families. Therapeutic approaches could include physical therapy, occupational therapy, or speech and language therapy for the child. These services can be provided through a center-based or home-based model and include encouragement Hospital workers tend to a premature infant in a neonatal unit. High risk infants can include babies who are born prematurely or with a disease such as phenylketonuria (PKU). (Annie Griffiths Belt/Corbis) of active parental participation. No single intervention model meets the needs of all children at risk; therefore, an individualized approach to providing services is necessary. Early intervention programs also work in conjunction with other services that assist families in functioning. These other services could include drug counseling programs, home health aides, transportation to medical evaluations, parenting classes, and support groups. At age three, children transition to preschool programs that continue to provide intervention and therapeutic services until age five, when the child transitions into the public school system.

Only a small proportion of at-risk infants go on to have developmental delay. Early intervention services are expensive and time-consuming. Generally, these services are reserved for children with known developmental delay, while a tracking system monitors high-risk infants and identifies developmental delays. Each state determines if at-risk infants will be automatically eligible or monitored for developmental delays and then referred for services.

Early identification of infants at high risk permits parent counseling and planning for the child's future. Early intervention with quality, long-term services can significantly improve the quality of life, minimize secondary complications, and improve cognitive function. But frequently early intervention does not prevent a developmental disability from occurring if the biological risk is high. Additionally, intervention services often help parents through a particularly difficult time.


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"Individuals with Disabilities Education Act." In the U. S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services [web site]. Available from http://www.ed.gov/offices/OSERS/IDEA; INTERNET.

Kruskal, Maureen, Michael C. Thomasgard, and Jack P. Shonkoff."Early Intervention for Vulnerable Infants and Their Families: An Emerging Agenda,"Seminars in Perinatology 13(1989):506-512.

Ostrosky, Michaelene M. "Early Education for Children with Special Needs." In the National Parent Information Network— Parent News [web site]. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, Illinois, 1997. Available from http://npin.org/pnews/1997/pnew997/pnew997b.html; INTERNET.

Kristi L. Milowic

Additional topics

Social Issues ReferenceChild Development Reference - Vol 4High Risk Infants - Risk Factors, Intervention And Rehabilitation