Helping children at the earliest signs of educational or developmental difficulty is key to prevent further delay as the child progresses. This concept is the basic premise of early intervention and the key goal of an early interventionist. Being such an important role in the educational field, a position as an early interventionist is rewarding but challenging and requires not only specific educational requirements but also unique personality traits.
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One of the important factors to consider about any job prior to pursuing it is the salary associated with the position. While monetary compensation is not everything, particularly with this position, individuals must make career decisions with an acute awareness of all factors. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook, individuals in the special education field earned a median salary of $55,060 in 2012, whereas individuals involved with younger age children earned an approximate $52, 480.
Like any other occupation, early intervention is a position with which the pay grade increases with experience. Whereas an individual with a few years of experience can expect to make closer to $50,000, an individual just entering the field typically makes anywhere between $25,000 to $38,000 depending on the location.
Early intervention is considered a specific sector of special education. This form of intervention is actually the first interaction any family has with the special education system and is designed to identify and serve children who are at risk for developing deficiencies to prevent delays in development and learning as much as possible. As such, early interventionists have unique responsibilities.
One of the most important roles interventionists play is serving as an interface between families and other service providers. In this role, the interventionist helps the family navigate the intervention system and helps coordinate the communication between therapists, social service-providers, medical personnel, and the educational system. An interventionist is also responsible for providing direct services for children in the early intervention program. Services are provided in different settings including classroom, home, and center-based programs. Additionally, an early intervention specialist works as a team member to provide developmental and educational experiences for children to improve sensory and physical ability, cognitive development, and emotional stability.
Additional tasks for which interventionists are responsible include taking detailed notes and reporting on child development and progress, assisting parents in addressing developmental and behavioral concerns, participating in assessments, providing individual and group treatment for children and families, and communicating with parents. Additionally, interventionists must interpret test results, create learning plans, suggest activities for home, and provide accurate information.
With such a range of responsibilities, early childhood special educators must have unique skills and professional qualities. Some of the most important skills needed of an interventionist are good organization and collaboration skills, high energy level, ability to multi-task, and comprehension of medical terminology and unusual medical conditions. Additionally, these professional individuals must be able to withstand the physical stress of lifting and carrying young children and being active for a large portion of the day. Likewise, individuals in the field must also have an aptitude for and fundamental understanding of the nuances of early childhood development as well as educational practices to meet and foster cognitive, physical, and emotional needs and development.
Degree and Education Requirements
The exact degree and education requirements vary slightly by state and by specific position or agency. However, most careers in early intervention require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree with an endorsement in Early Intervention or teaching Early Childhood Special Education. The coursework that is required or associated with the field include courses that cover developmental milestones in children, assessment of infants and very young children, as well as disabilities or disabling conditions that affect children from birth to five years of age.
Additionally, many early intervention positions require individuals to be specially certified. Certification typically involves supervised teaching experience, a regimen of standardized testing completed with satisfactory scores, and even specific grade point averages. Most states also require individuals to complete annual professional development or to earn a master’s degree to keep their licenses current.
Rewards and Challenges
As with any teaching or childcare position, early intervention has both its challenges and rewards. While working with children and families with special needs can be heart wrenching, the reward of seeing a child meet a milestone after months of trying is an unparalleled experience. Additionally, while most active hours are aligned with a traditional school day schedule, an individual in the field often puts in additional time creating plans, interpreting data, making family visits and phone calls, and completing other “clerical” tasks. The job often involves being in environments that are somewhat atypical for most professional individuals and require additional sensitivity to parents and their needs as well as those of the child involved. In any case, though, early intervention offers a unique opportunity to shape the life of a child, and that reward is greater than any other.
While education goes a long way toward preparing an individual for a career in early intervention, education can do little without experience. To best prepare for a job in this field, individuals should seek out opportunities to work in a day care setting that provides services to children with disabilities. Additionally, visiting an early childhood center that serves children with disabilities, such as an Easter Seal Clinic, is a good place to observe or even do community service hours. Taking the time to network and talk to professionals currently in the field is also an important way to collect information and to get a better feel for the field.
While many regular education fields have negative job outlooks, the current level of need for qualified professionals in the early intervention field is great. Current legislation mandates the services provided by early intervention agencies, which has also opened up an assortment of jobs. It is likely that this trend of increased need for early interventionists will only continue. A number of agencies hire individuals in this field including Easter Seal, Birth to Three, and other state specific organizations as well as public schooling systems.
The field of education is a rewarding place to work, but early intervention takes that even a step further. Early intervention allows an individual to not only provide services for the child but also for his or her family to better meet the needs of the child and to enable his or her progress. A career in this field truly is a way to change a life.