3 Reasons to Go “Bagless” in Early Intervention

In early intervention (EI), therapists work in the homes and community settings where families live and play. For these therapists, there is a growing trend toward the concept of going “bagless”. So, what does it mean to go “bagless”?

The concept centers around entering the family’s space and using our skills and knowledge to coach parents in understanding and supporting their child’s development using only what they have immediately available – no books, no toys, and no “therapy equipment” of our own. This can be a call to complete surrender to the therapist who is accustomed to guiding therapy sessions with certain supplies.

The “bagless” concept might be scary to the seasoned EI therapist. It may even invoke the same fear encountered when they first moved into the EI setting. However, the “bagless” concept, actually encompasses and emphasizes our goals as therapists working in EI:

  • Surrender of our opinions
  • Immersion into each family’s world
  • Reliance on clinical skill, creativity, and organization
  • Focus on the family as the best early teachers for their child

When we go “bagless” we return to these basics of early intervention.

3 Reasons to Go “Bagless”

What does going “bagless” look like in everyday situations and why should we adopt this therapy approach? Here are three reasons to consider for going “bagless” in EI.

1. Family Focused

Going bagless recenters our attention back on the natural environment and on the child and their family’s needs.

Natural Environment

Under IDEA law, children and families with developmental challenges and diagnoses are entitled to therapy services in their natural environments – meaning their homes, playgrounds, and communities. Under this law, therapists as part of a multidisciplinary team are focused on the family’s needs and wishes for their child.

If we are truly following through with the focus of the law, we are using our clinical experience to examine a family’s unique situation, including home environment, family emotional makeup, and priorities. This means letting go of our expectations and offering our skills to help the family support their child with their expectations.

Two Patients

Work in early intervention means you work to inspire and work alongside two “patients” – the child you are seeing and their family. We get to assist in and witness firsthand the family become empowered to help their child meet their goals and follow their dreams. And, at the end of the day – you don’t need a bag for that important work.

2. Flexible Learning & Personal Growth

Going bagless means therapy is flexible around the child’s needs and the family’s goals. You’re showing up ready to immerse yourself in their world. There are no barriers or preconceived concepts that stand in the way of using your creative clinical skills to develop a meaningful treatment plan. You’re also easily adaptable and able to learn on the fly.

3. Fun

Working in a home allows us to provide functional support and creative solutions for everyday activities.

Functional Therapy

As an EI therapist, we jump into a family’s daily routines and activities. We see firsthand their struggles and can model strategies to support them right there where they live. For example, if a child struggles with safely walking stairs, we get to practice stairs on the family’s actual stairs. If a child has feeding challenges, we come over for breakfast. If a child is frustrated due to lack of language we get to observe their attempts at communication in their natural environment. There’s no worry about potential carry over because we are teaching and supporting in the actual setting – and lucky for us, this almost always means we get to play for work!

Creative Solutions

Work in early intervention affords therapists the ability to flex creative muscles, like forming a therapy plan out of a family’s dreams for their child and what they have available in the home. That often means paper towel rolls, magazine clippings, or a sibling’s soccer ball.

The EI world can be unpredictable, but going “bagless” prepares you well for this exciting setting. Flexibility and willingness to continually learn and grow is a must in any therapy setting, but particularly when working in EI. Adopt a “bagless” approach and refocus your attention on your patient and their family; all of you will benefit greatly from this unique approach!

  1. "Everyday Learning Opportunities." Learning Way: Family-Provided Child Learning Opportunities (n.d.): n. pag. Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center. 11 Jan. 17. Web. 2 Mar. 17.
  2. "Natural Environments in Early Intervention." (2008): n. pag. American Physical Therapy Association. Web. 2 Jan. 2017. McWilliam, Robin. "RAM Group." RAM Group. N.p., 2015. Web. 02 Mar. 2017.
  3. Workgroup on Principles and Practices in Natural Environments, OSEP TA Community of Practice: Part C Settings. (2008, March). Seven key principles: Looks like / doesn’t look like. Retrieved from http://www.ectacenter.org/~pdfs/topics/families/Principles_LooksLike_DoesntLookLike3_11_08.pdf