The term 'early intervention' designates educational and neuroprotection strategies aimed at enhancing brain development. Early educational strategies seek to take advantage of cerebral plasticity. Neuroprotection, a term initially used to characterize substances capable of preventing cell death, now encompasses all interventions that promote normal development and prevent disabilities, including organisational, therapeutic and environment-modifying measures, such as early stimulation programs. Early stimulation programs were first devised in the United States for vulnerable children in low-income families; positive effects were recorded regarding school failure rates and social problems. Programs have also been implemented in several countries for premature infants and low-birth-weight infants, who are at high risk for neurodevelopmental abnormalities. The programs target the child, the parents or both. The best evaluated programs are the NIDCAP (Newborn Individualized Developmental Care and Assessment Program) in Sweden for babies<1500 g in neonatal intensive care units and the longitudinal multisite program IHDP (Infant Health and Development Program) created in the United States for infants<37 weeks or <2500 g.
Conclusion: Although the NIDCAP and the IHDP targeted different populations, they produced similar effects in several regards: efficacy was greatest with programs involving both the parents and the child; long-term stimulation improved cognitive outcomes and child-parent interactions; cognition showed greater improvements than motor skills and larger benefits were obtained in families that combined several risk factors including low education attainment by the mothers.