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Am Psychol. 1998 Feb;53(2):109-20.

Early intervention and early experience.

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  • 1Civitan International Research Center, University of Alabama at Birmingham 35294-0221, USA.


For 4 decades, vigorous efforts have been based on the premise that early intervention for children of poverty and, more recently, for children with developmental disabilities can yield significant improvements in cognitive, academic, and social outcomes. The history of these efforts is briefly summarized and a conceptual framework presented to understand the design, research, and policy relevance of these early interventions. This framework, biosocial developmental contextualism, derives from social ecology, developmental systems theory, developmental epidemiology, and developmental neurobiology. This integrative perspective predicts that fragmented, weak efforts in early intervention are not likely to succeed, whereas intensive, high-quality, ecologically pervasive interventions can and do. Relevant evidence is summarized in 6 principles about efficacy of early intervention. The public policy challenge in early intervention is to contain costs by more precisely targeting early interventions to those who most need and benefit from these interventions. The empirical evidence on biobehavioral effects of early experience and early intervention has direct relevance to federal and state policy development and resource allocation.

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