So You Want to Switch to Early Intervention The need for communication sciences and disorders professionals who work with the birth-to-3 population is huge. You want to help, but it's not your area of expertise. Here's how to get the education you need. Features
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Features  |   February 01, 2014
So You Want to Switch to Early Intervention
Author Notes
  • Adena Dacy
    is ASHA associate director of clinical issues in speech-language pathology. ·adacy@asha.org
Article Information
Special Populations / Early Identification & Intervention / Professional Issues & Training / Features
Features   |   February 01, 2014
So You Want to Switch to Early Intervention
The ASHA Leader, February 2014, Vol. 19, 53-57. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR2.19022014.53
The ASHA Leader, February 2014, Vol. 19, 53-57. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR2.19022014.53
Working with infants, toddlers and their families was never part of my professional plan. As a high school senior, I was a classroom assistant for children who were deaf and hard of hearing, sparking my interest in speech-language pathology and sign language. After I earned my master’s in speech-language pathology, I began working with adults with acquired speech, language and swallowing disorders—and eventually returned to school five years later to become a sign language interpreter.
I worked for almost 20 years with teenagers, adults and their families as a speech-language pathologist in medical settings and as a sign language interpreter. As my career progressed, I recognized that one of my favorite parts of my job was being on an interdisciplinary team that provided educational resources, support and training to family members.
Shifting to early intervention, then, was not as foreign as it seemed initially because of the family-centered nature of working with infants and toddlers. So, after many years of splitting my time between two professions, I was ready to meld my skills and pursue a singular path: providing resources for families of young children who were deaf or hard of hearing and just beginning the process of early intervention.
I knew that my many years of experience with collaborative assessment, treatment, family education and advocacy would translate well with this new population—but I also knew that I needed further training and hands-on experiences to feel qualified to work in early intervention, particularly with respect to federal guidelines, evidence-based best practices and leadership skills.
But what training would I need? And where would I find the early-intervention experience I needed to gain competence? These are the questions facing any commuication sciences and disorders professional wishing to redirect a career course to early intervention.
HIGH NEEDS
Before reaching my decision to switch career paths, I re-evaluated my interests and researched my options, and discovered that professionals qualified to work with infants and toddlers in family-centered early intervention settings are in high demand. Many factors have contributed to this personnel shortage, including the higher prevalence of developmental disabilities, improved universal newborn hearing screening procedures, and increased survival of preterm infants with complex medical needs. Part C of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 recognizes that young children with disabilities and their families require the special knowledge, skills and experience of professionals specifically educated to provide early intervention services. ASHA also identifies a core set of knowledge and skills needed by communication professionals working in early intervention.
Many communication sciences and disorders professionals who already have this skill set are forging innovative ways to serve their communities (see companion article on page 58). But how can those without these competencies aquire them? There are several options: attending workshops and conferences to acquire the continuing education; enrolling in certification courses or participating in mentorship experiences required by state programs for early intervention providers; or attending university programs specifically designed to train students and professionals to work with this population.
My choice was a university program—Deaf and Hard of Hearing Infants, Toddlers and Families: Collaboration and Leadership Interdisciplinary Graduate Certificate Program—at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. Through seven courses (18 credits) over 14 months and a required capstone project—mine was an internship—I acquired the additional knowledge and skills I needed to work competently in early intervention at the local, state and national levels.
I also learned one of the great ironies of family-centered early intervention—that although many professionals choose this setting because they want to work with young children, the reality is they will work with adults just as much, if not more so, than the infants and toddlers, and will need those skill sets as well.
UNIVERSITY-BASED PROGRAMS
Gallaudet’s curriculum is just one example of the many university programs throughout the country that may help to reduce the shortage of qualified early intervention professionals by offering combinations of online and on-campus interdisciplinary teaching and learning programs.
If you search the Web for “early intervention university training programs” you find independent certificate programs meant for certified or licensed professionals from a variety of disciplines who are already providing services and want to improve, expand or update their early intervention knowledge and skills. You will also find integrated programs for those who are pursuing professional degrees and are interested in working with infants and toddlers and their families.
Both of these types of programs are often interdisciplinary in their faculty, students and curriculum. They typically require 12 to 18 months of intensive coursework team-taught by professionals in disciplines such as special education, early childhood education, social work, counseling, psychology, speech-language pathology, audiology, physical and occupational therapy, and nursing. They also tend to require field experiences, internships or capstone projects. They offer students the opportunity to experience the collaborative approach that is current practice in early intervention and to gain expertise in early intervention from a culturally competent, diverse and family-focused perspective. (See why interdisciplinary training is so critical in the sidebar on p. 55.)
Interdisciplinary Collaboration: The Key to Successful Early Intervention Services

ASHA has identified four key principles that guide the delivery of early intervention services (on.asha.org/ei-for-slps). These principles, all of which incorporate the need for interdisciplinary collaboration, state that services should be:

  • Family-centered and culturally responsive.

  • Developmentally supportive and promote children’s participation in their natural environments.

  • Comprehensive, coordinated and team-based.

  • Based on the highest quality internal and external evidence available.

As early intervention professionals, we are expected to be speech, language and hearing authorities, but we may also function as general developmental specialists, primary service providers, consultants, service coordinators, collaborators and family educators. It can be overwhelming for professionals prepared in one discipline to feel as if they need to be experts in all areas.

Therefore, SLPs and audiologists working in early intervention must be prepared to collaborate with other professionals who have expertise in different disciplines. Enrolling in interdisciplinary training programs or courses is one way to prepare us with the knowledge and skills to work in collaboration with others on an interdisciplinary team. The hope is that professionals who participate in such experiences as part of their training will be more likely to provide interdisciplinary collaborative services to the children and families they serve.

—Adena Dacy

STATE PROGRAMS
State early intervention systems also offer training opportunities and/or field experiences for professionals who provide or want to begin providing services to infants and toddlers.
All states deliver early intervention services through Part C, but the manner in which each state operates its early intervention program varies. The requirements for providers and the lead agencies that oversee the Part C programs differ in each state. The lead agency could be, for example, the state’s public health department, special education department or education department.
States have a variety of ways to ensure that SLPs and audiologists who provide services to young children and their families are appropriately qualified, including state certification, licensure and credentialing in early intervention and/or in their professional discipline. These state mechanisms may differ from ASHA’s national certification standards.
Some states, for example, require all service providers to have a set of competencies for early intervention, regardless of certification or licensing standards the providers may have met within their professions. In addition, some states may have specific credentials for those who serve infants and toddlers with specific disabilities, such as autism, that require additional coursework and/or professional experience.
So how can you get started? Several states have online courses or modules as part of the credentialing or qualification process required for any Part C early intervention provider. Some programs, such as the one in Massachusetts, affiliate with universities, have their own early intervention specialist certification program, and maintain an early intervention training center to ensure the quality of professionals delivering services to families and to provide those professionals with support and continuing education opportunities. In the Illinois Early Intervention System, new providers must complete required online training on the state’s early intervention system, followed by a one-day, in-person training. New York also offers an extensive early intervention training program to ensure that qualified personnel are delivering services to eligible children and their families.
For information on the qualifications and training opportunities for SLPs and audiologists working in early intervention in your state, check your state’s lead agency website or contact your local county infant/toddler or preschool early intervention program directly.
PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT COURSEWORK
Another option for SLPs and audiologists interested in early intervention service provision is to attend workshops and conferences as part of their professional development. This type of continuing education is offered online, in day-long trainings, and at state or national early intervention conventions. Professional development companies often publicize their early intervention coursework, but local and state early intervention programs and speech-language-hearing associations also offer programs on the topic. While not as comprehensive, evaluative or interdisciplinary as university and state programs, professional development courses are often the most financially, geographically and logistically accessible to many SLPs and audiologists.
Examples of these professional development courses include:
The need for SLPs and audiologists qualified to work with infants and toddlers in family-centered early intervention is clear. And the transition to the early intervention setting may not be as much of a leap as it initially appears. Even if you are not interested in providing direct services to infants and toddlers, there are opportunities to support families and professionals who work in early intervention by creating resources and developing policies and best practices.
With the graduate certificate program at Gallaudet, I was looking to forge a new career path. In my capstone internship—a position related to national early intervention policy, program initiatives and resource development—I used my professional experience and expertise and also developed a new skill set and knowledge base. In the contract work I have done with the Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center and in my role at the ASHA national office, I collaborate on interdisciplinary teams to support early intervention professionals and the family members they serve. It has been a rewarding way to refocus my career.
ASHA early intervention resources
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February 2014
Volume 19, Issue 2