Early Intervention: A Strong Start for Your Child - Part 1

Early Intervention: A Strong Start for Your Child – Part 1

New Mommy Pittsburgh magazine recently had the opportunity to sit down with Sharon Richards, Achieva’s Vice President of Early Intervention, to learn more about their mission to help and support children age 0-3 who are born with a diagnosis or experience a delay in their development.  Achieva Early Intervention has supported thousands of families over the past 45 years, is a trusted name in the early intervention community, and is one of only two non-profit providers of early intervention in Allegheny County. Services are provided at no cost to families.

Sharon Richards
Achieva’s Vice President of Early Intervention

Having worked in both clinical and administrative settings in special education over her entire career and with over 13 years of experience with Achieva Early Intervention, Sharon Richards knows early childhood development. “When we talk about early intervention, when we talk about the education of young people — it’s serious business,” says Richards. “We’re talking about a million neurons being created every minute, and age 0-3 is the time and place where the most impactful interventions can happen.” Early intervention services have a significant impact on a child’s ability to learn new skills and increase their success in school and in life. “If we are getting them early, we are making a lifelong impact.”

The Earlier, the Better With Early Intervention

Intervention is likely to be more effective when it is provided earlier in life rather than later. The connections in a baby’s brain are most adaptable in the first three years of life. These connections, also called neural circuits, are the foundation for learning, behavior, and health. Over time, these connections become harder to change.1 Early intervention services can change a child’s developmental path and improve outcomes for children, families, and communities.

When we ask Richards what she would say to anxious parents who are concerned that their child isn’t meeting developmental milestones, her depth of experience comes through with compassion and reassurance. “Take a breath. It’s going to be okay. If I can impart anything to a family it’s ‘nothing is broken, so there’s nothing to fix’. This is who your child is, this is what typical development tells us we need to do, and this is how we’re going to move towards that. If we don’t get there, we don’t get there. If we just focus on and deal with what’s right in front of us and work to move it along while accepting where we are at, we would all be more relaxed in the process.” Truly, Richards and Achieva Early Intervention model a philosophy where delays or disability of any kind would make no difference.

Speech Therapist Maryann Hackworth working with Noel and her mom Alicia.

Children all develop at their own pace and generally meet milestones like crawling or sitting by certain times in their lives. Early intervention is a service that helps babies and toddlers (from birth to 3 years of age) with developmental delays or disabilities. Talk with your pediatrician if you have concerns and trust your instincts if you think your child might not be reaching speech, cognitive, hearing and physical milestones among others. 

Parents: Trust Your Instincts

Richards agrees. “Parents should truly trust their gut when they think their child may not be meeting developmental milestones. If you’re having a concern and you feel it enough to ask the question, then the question needs to be answered. Families don’t need to have permission (or referral) from their pediatrician to pursue an evaluation.” Concerned parents should reach out to Achieva Early Intervention directly at 412-995-5000 they can help you navigate the system. Again, there is no charge for these services. 

The process of beginning early intervention can seem overwhelming, but as soon as a phone call comes in to service coordination, “things happen pretty quickly” according to Richards. The thing to remember is that you have a choice in who will be your early intervention services provider. “You have a choice. Please pick, and please pick Achieva Early Intervention, Don’t leave your child’s progress up to chance,” encourages Richards.

Teach the Family, Help the Child

Achieva Early Intervention prides itself on using a home-based / routines-based coaching model. As Richards explains, “It really means that I am going to take my expertise and teach you (the family / parents) how to do it. It is my job to teach you what I know.” As research has proven, the more we are exposed to a new concept or tool, the more we are able to learn it. This applies to early intervention as well. The old model of solely relying on a therapist coming into your home has evolved so that families are trained to be able to help their child learn and develop every day, seven days a week.

Physical Therapist Josh Wagner working with
McKenzie and her dad Bryan.

Each family has their own goals and objectives that the therapist works on. When asked what a typical therapist visit is like, Richards says that they look at “what the family identifies as their objectives. Paying attention to what is right in front of you (during visits with the child), thinking on your feet is paramount. “I’m not bringing a toy bag; instead, we’re using what you have around the house. It doesn’t make any difference if I visit with a toy that you don’t have around all the time. Instead, we might say, ‘What are 101 ways to use Tupperware containers to increase language and fine motor skills? It’s very much understanding our discipline, knowing what typical child development is, and knowing how to intervene with that,” explains Richards.

Choose Achieva Early Intervention

Quick to give credit to others within Achieva Early Intervention, Richards gets to the heart of how Achieva Early Intervention staff sets themselves apart. “This is a vocation for them to the world, this is how they give back. It’s their calling.”All Achieva Early Intervention therapists are highly qualified in their field of study, and pursue continuing education as required by their certification field and/or licensure. Richards concludes, “I would trust them (the therapists at Achieva Early Intervention) with my own children.”

Contact Achieva Early Intervention with questions about community based programming, including free infant massage classes, at 412.995.5000 or at 1.888.272.7229 (toll free)

For more information on Early Intervention services in Allegheny County, contact the service coordination unit, Alliance for Infants and Toddlers at 412-885-6000 and consider choosing Achieva Early Intervention as your provider. Referrals for early intervention services can be made by parents or guardians. For families in Washington County, please contact Washington County Human Services, 724-229-2620. In Westmoreland County, please contact Westmoreland Casemanagement & Supports, Inc. (WCSI) at (724) 837-1808.

Act early on developmental concerns to make a real difference for your child and you! If you’re concerned about your child’s development, don’t wait. You know your child best. 


  1. The Importance of Early Intervention for Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities and Their Families pdf icon [1.19 MB, 2 Pages] external icon Accessed February 26, 2015.

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