Magic Moment Memo April 2016

The “Early Intervention State of Mind”lightbulb

One of the reasons I love my job is what I call the “lightbulb” moments that I see with new staff. You know, the moment when I see the imaginary lightbulb suddenly turn on over someone’s head! As someone who does professional development, I go for these “Aha!” moments – that spark of sudden insight or inspiration or realization. My favorite “Aha!” moments occur when a practitioner realizes they are not just there to “work the baby.” 

I’m one of the training coordinators for Early Intervention (EI), a state program for children birth to three years old with developmental delays or disabilities. The purpose/mission of the Early Intervention System is to enhance families’ capacity to enhance their child’s development. This mission is so fitting with the principles of infant mental health which emphasize the importance of the responsive caregiving relationship as the foundation of child development.

Most of the people who attend our introductory training are brand new to working in the early intervention system. There are many different types of practitioners with varying backgrounds and experience – special educators, child development specialists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech language pathologists, social workers, etc. During introductions at our training, we ask participants to tell us one reason that draws them to work in early intervention.

The answers vary . . .  often including reasons such as I “love babies,” “love to see the progress at this age,” or “love to see the toddlers take their first step or say their first word.” These are not surprising answers as most folks were trained to work with the baby/child as the client or receiver of services.  Yet, these types of answers do not necessarily capture the depth and breadth of our work and the nature and importance of the family-child relationship. Sometimes, participants are, let’s say, a bit surprised as they begin to realize early intervention is as much about partnering with and coaching the family as it is about the professional working directly with the child.

One of my training colleagues has described the philosophy and mission of early intervention (EI) as the “EI state of mind” (think of Billy Joel singing “I’m in a NY state of mind” . . . perhaps you have started to hum the song already?). Sometimes I feel like an important aspect of my job involves converting new staff to the “EI state of mind.”

I start seeing the “lightbulbs” light up as folks are reminded of the importance of the family-child relationship as the foundation for all development – why does a toddler take his/her first step or say his/her first word and to whom. And the practitioners begin to realize that a large part of the progress we see in the children largely reflects the impact of families’ interactions with their child on his/her brain development. Powerful.

I’m hoping the “lightbulb” moments support practitioners to think about ways to begin (or continue) to integrate infant mental health principles into their work with families. In my mind, it is a job well done when I receive comments on the evaluation forms that tell me the most important thing participants learned was about the family: writing family outcomes, supporting the family, use materials the family already has, knowing I can support the family to go to the local playground, and that it is “ok” to spend as much time talking to the family as much as to the child during an EI session. Working in early intervention is so much about coaching the parent and understanding that children develop within the context of their relationships with their family and their everyday activities. This is how I hope that my influence on long term outcomes for families and children will extend far beyond my training room.


Jennifer Blanchette McConnell, PhD, IMH-E® IV-Clinical Mentor

Training & Technical Assistance Coordinator

Mid-Jersey CARES Regional Early Intervention Collaborative – REIC

Central Jersey Family Health Consortium

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