Contexts for learning in early intervention settings in isolated or rural areas

Year: 1996

Author: Linfoot, Ken

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Early Intervention has come to be recognised as a term used to describe many different services provided for families of children with disabilities or at risk of developmental delay. These services may include, either singly or in combination, medical, therapeutic, educational or social interventions which may differ considerably in rationale, timing of onset, duration, intensity and purpose (Guralnick & Bennett, 1987; Linfoot, 1992). Thus, although a number of defining characteristics have been identified which describe important principles for the delivery of Early Intervention (Andrews, 1985; NSW Early Intervention Association, 1988; Report of Early Intervention Co-ordination Project, 1994), a variety of support services to children and families (eg, medical, counselling, educational, therapeutic) may be intended by the term's use by different practitioners (Bochner, 1990). It is clear that when the opportunity is present for families to be helped by the coordinated long term efforts of a group of professionals representing medicine, occupational, physio- and speech therapy, special education and relevant social services, the result has been improvement in the developmental outcomes for the young children involved and in the confidence and capacity for parents to cope with raising a youngster with a disability (Anastasiow & Harel, 1993; Gallagher & Ramey, 1987; Guralnick & Bennett, 1987; Hawke & Hayes, 1993; Kemp & Carter, 1993; Linfoot, 1992; McNaughton, 1994). Conversely, families with no or limited access to these problems have often experienced many problems. These may include distress, and family disruption as they have tried to understand what was happening to their child and to cope with associated feelings of grief, guilt and sometimes recriminations. Worrying about what the future may hold for their youngster and for their family as a whole can remain a concern for many families as they face each day without a constructive plan of action for promoting their child's optimum growth and their family's adjustment to these circumstances. Early Intervention programs can focus on developing activities and methods for helping young children and families to develop needed confidence and skills to maximum levels (Kemp & Carter, 1993; Pieterse, Bochner & Bettison, 1988). But in order to access these programs, many parents of youngsters with disabilities need assistance in maintaining necessary contact with medical staff monitoring the youngster's condition, and with organising access to educational and therapy programs. Areas of need may include community service support such as financial assistance, respite care, and with assistance for transportation to the various medical, therapy and early childhood group appointments. Ongoing access to programming in for example, speech, physio- or occupational therapy and to early educational programming are other difficulties which may face some parents, especially those in isolated rural areas in these early years. But, perhaps most important is the opportunity for parent support and confidence building through meeting with other parents. This allows the sharing of similar experiences in raising such a child and provides the chance for parents to gain some emotional support and self confidence as they realise that the difficulties they had been facing are also experienced by others. Similarly, such meetings may provide parents with the opportunity to share tips on sources of support and advice with other families, even in finding their way through the maze of agencies offering support to families of children with disabilities. Where young children in this age group in isolated rural area experience the effects of a disability or developmental difficulty, the practical problems involved in providing regular medical, educational and social services to meet that child's and family's particular needs for support are made even more difficult. Indeed in many cases, it is likely that those support needs may not even be identified, let alone be met on a regular and systematic basis. It may well be that for some children and their families, that it is not until the child is presented for school enrolment that the identification of special support needs is made and support offered to the family.