What is Early Intervention (EI) and Which Babies Need It? Information from the Saint Barnabas NICU Family Advisory Council

The following appeared in the Saint Barnabas Medical Center Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Family Advisory Council’s Winter 2021 Newsletter.

A very common question many of our NICU families ask our staff as their baby/babies are getting close to going home is about whether or not their baby will need early intervention and how they will know if their baby needs it. Keep in mind that the majority of babies that graduate from our NICU do not need Early Intervention (EI) but some do, so what follows is some information we hope will help you with these questions.

In NJ, EI is a statewide program that can evaluate and provide needed developmental services for youngsters from birth to 3 years old. A parent or doctor or other health care worker can request an evaluation for a child in this age range and an EI worker can be scheduled to come to your house for an evaluation.

Since every baby develops at their own pace (and with preemies that pace may be delayed by roughly how early they were born), it is sometimes difficult to know if your baby is “developmentally delayed” and needs an evaluation. Skills such as taking a first step, smiling for the first time and waving bye-bye are called “developmental milestones” and when babies meet these milestones is important. However, some babies simply speak, crawl, walk and relate to others later than other babies, but there are some general things babies should be doing by certain ages and all pediatricians should be checking on these developmental milestones each time you take them for a check-up. So, it is important to keep regularly scheduled appointments with your pediatrician and ask them if they feel your baby is meeting their milestones in an acceptable time frame. You can also see a listing of these expected milestones, by age, in the EI Pamphlets we have in the NICU Family Library or at www.cdc.gov (in English and Spanish).

Because there are ranges of time for when babies/toddlers meet their milestones there is no set answer about some of this, especially early on (say in the first 3-6 months of life). However if you, or your doctor, have concerns about milestones seeming to be late in several areas or if your child seems very behind in one area reach out to Early Intervention for an evaluation. They can be contacted at 888-653-4463 and you can find out more about all of this at http://nj.gov/health/fhs/eis.

If the EI team sends someone to your home to do an evaluation, they will gather information from the family and from observing the child in several areas of development (such as communication, feeding, behavior, walking/movement, vision, and hearing). That trained professional will then determine if the child is significantly delayed compared to other children the same age and in need of services. They will also recommend the types and amounts of services needed.

Families are often concerned with the cost of these services for their baby. Keep in mind, there is usually not any cost associated with having the EI team evaluate your baby and if they think the child needs services there are usually co-pays dependent on the families income and health insurance. They try to work with the families to get the most help to these children during these important first three years of life. Again, to learn more about any of this go to http://nj.gov/health/fhs/eis.

Visit our website for more NICU family education and information.