We have all heard that “early intervention is best”. But why? The reason is clear and backed by decades of research. Brain development occurs much more rapidly within the first five years of life. In fact, though many neurological processes are complete at birth, the human brain exhibits continued dramatic development during the preschool years and reaches 90% of adult size and volume by the age of six(1). This means we have a window of opportunity that will never again be available.
Connections in developing brains are largely driven by the child’s experiences and the quality of relationships with caring and responsive adults. When a child feels loved, and their physical and emotional needs are met, the brain is strengthened and a foundation is provided upon which social-emotional, cognitive and language skills develop. Inversely, when emotional and environmental stress consistently occur, these rapid-developing brains are negatively impacted causing lifelong problems in behavior, learning, and can also negatively influence physical and mental health.
It is critical to identify and support children in need of services when the developing brain holds the greatest potential for change. The intensity level of services provided is also important. To approach early intervention in a laissez-faire manner is sub-optimal. Don’t get me wrong, receiving therapeutic services for 30-60 minutes once per week is much better than no intervention at all, however, it feels negligent to not maximize this incredible window of opportunity by intervening with an intensive approach.
The conclusion is that timing really does make a difference. With each passing day, our window of opportunity for maximum positive impact is reduced. And if your child is already past the birth-5 window, don’t panic. The brain continues to develop until reaching full maturity near the age of 25. During this time, connections are still being developed that will last a lifetime. Just remember, the earlier a child receives services, the more time we have to positively influence outcomes.
1. Brown, T. T., & Jernigan, T. L. (2012). Brain development during the preschool years. Neuropsychology review, 22(4), 313–333. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11065-012-9214-1