Developmental therapists (also known as a child development specialists, infant specialists, or play therapists) provide early intervention services both in the child’s natural environment (home, school, or community settings) and in the clinic. Developmental therapy is beneficial for children of all ages, beginning at birth.

Milestone developmental therapists are here to enhance engagement with peers and environment, foster age appropriate play skills, encourage communication skills, develop emotional regulation, address behavior skills, and develop a deeper parent-child relationship.

Developmental therapy uses the fun and spontaneity of play to address how a child develops globally (across all areas of development), including language and communication, cognition, fine and gross motor skills, social-emotional skills, and self-help skills.

A developmental therapist works to enhance a child’s relationships and daily functioning by working closely with other professionals, including speech language pathologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, and others. The focus of developmental therapy is to enhance engagement, play with peers, develop emotional regulation, and develop communication skills. Some developmental therapists specialize in academics while others specialize in infant development. Families are provided with tools to facilitate daily play and functioning.

Enhance engagement with peers and environment

Initially a child’s development and daily functioning is assessed using a global assessment tool, which incorporates observation of play, family interview, and history. The family and developmental therapist then outline goals to address areas of concern and develop a plan of action that includes frequency of service and suggested activities. Each session begins with a review of the child’s progress and concerns and then progresses to play-based therapy. The therapist often models play-based intervention and then ‘coaches’ families in their own interactions to facilitate engagement, play, and communication. The developmental therapist consults with other disciplines to address other needs, such as positioning, sensory processing, visual processing, or auditory processing, and incorporate elements of other therapies into each play session.

Developmental therapy can begin as early in infancy as possible in order to address relationships, exploration, and communication. Intervention is individualized and flexible. Developmental therapists work with families to utilize each child’s strengths and interests to facilitate interaction, communication, and learning. For some children the focus might be on interaction, for others the focus might be learning basic concepts. The therapist, child, and family participate in a variety of activities, including large motor play, sensory play, pretend, puzzles and shape sorters, arts and crafts, and literacy. Foster age appropriate play skills

Developmental therapists also help children learn personal and family routines, including washing hands, dressing, feeding, and bathing. Behavior is another component of therapy and developmental therapists often accompany families on community outings in order to address behavior issues. Families are vital to a child’s success, so parents, foster parents, siblings, and grandparents are encouraged to be fully involved. When therapy is provided in a daycare setting the therapist and child stay with the class as much as possible to facilitate social learning through class activities.

Interested in learning more about developmental therapy in the Early Intervention setting? Contact Child and Family Connections Services (Illinois) or First Steps (Indiana) to learn more!

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