Rethinking early childhood intervention

Dr Tim Moore has a message for families of children with disabilities: early childhood intervention is more than therapy. After receiving a diagnosis, the parents’ first thought is often for the child to go to as many sessions as possible. It’s an understandable response.

“They assume that the experts know more than they do about their child, and what their child needs,” he says. “It’s only partly true—the fact is that parents know things that the experts don’t know.”

Dr Moore is a developmental psychologist and head of research and policy at the Centre of Community Child Health, Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne. His work on child development, family relationships and service systems has had a significant impact in the early childhood intervention and early childhood fields in Australia and overseas.

For our 4th Annual Family Conference keynote, Dr Moore shared some of his insights on the power of families and the community in nurturing children’s development. Here are four of them:

Parents and community participation make the difference in children’s learning

“All parents are responsible for driving their child’s development, not only parents of children with disabilities,” Dr Moore points out.

“Parents provide a nurturing environment—and there is a lot that they can do within that framework that supports the child.”

Before therapy and other supports, a child with disability’s core needs are the same as every other child, he explains. “They need to be part of a family, be loved, be secure. They need to have routines, be able to contribute to the family, and go out into the world.”

Participating in the community is vital, Dr Moore stresses. “Children with disabilities are prone to meeting fewer people, having more restricted environments and experiences. That deprives them of developmental opportunities.”

Most learning happens between therapy sessions

There’s a misconception that lots and lots of therapy is needed for learning. In fact, most of a child’s development happens where they spend most of their time, and the opportunities that include applying strategies and other advice from professionals.

“A therapist has an hour with a child that maybe that’s once or twice a week. In terms of time, it represents a very small proportion,” says Dr Moore. “Learning needs to be embedded in everyday activities. It needs to be part of what the family does.”

Parents are experts too

The best outcomes happen when professionals and parents combine their expertise and work in partnership. “Professionals cannot make recommendations or strategies without understanding a child as an individual, their preferences and circumstances, who they live with.”

This means parents need to take charge and communicate when they realise that a professional’s suggestion may not be appropriate. In a genuine partnership, Dr Moore says parents can set realistic routines that will not overload the family. Professionals become more experienced in how their specialist knowledge works for different families. “They learn from each other.”

Telepractice works for Early Childhood Intervention

Shifting services online during the pandemic hasn’t affected the quality of Early Childhood Intervention services, says Dr Moore. In fact, teleconferencing has been beneficial in certain ways. As professionals couldn’t physically interact with the children, they have been guiding parents on carrying out strategies at the very start.

It’s a great outcome in the partnership. “Parents are given the skills and confidence to provide their children the kind of opportunities and support to participate meaningfully in home life, community life, and in early childhood settings.”

Watch the 4th Annual Family Conference keynote with Dr Tim Moore and Plumtree CEO Sylvana Mahmic for insights on raising children with disability, inclusion, and more.

Also from our 4th Family Conference:

Read Telepractice: a family guide and resource, an eBook with practical tips on achieving positive outcomes for children and the entire family with teleconferencing [Please confirm that this links to the most current file]

Download the 4th Annual Conference Parent Statement that summarises the event’s key points and guides the way forward

Watch an interview with Audrey O’Connor, who is inspiring people with disability to make a difference through cinema

Watch Reframing Disability’s Chair of the Board Kate McNamara’s presentation on self-managing NDIS planning for her daughter to live her best life.

1 thought on “Rethinking early childhood intervention”

  1. Sarah Elsleiman

    Wise words. This is absolutely true. With trusting and supportive therapist though parents develop confidence to apply strategies and work on goals with their child.

    So much can be learnt into applying strategies to routines and interactions with children.

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