Our DS is almost 4 and we tried EI in both Texas and CA. In my opinion, the services you can get through EI vary widely depending on where you are!
In TX we had a very bad experience, they offered us very little and the services they did offer were very spotty.
In CA the system was much better and we encountered a number of great therapists. HOWEVER, we also found that it was clearly a "system" that had a hard time accommodating non-standard issues. For example, our county is GREAT for kids on the spectrum, but for other delays it didn't have the right tools to help us deal with our DS's unique issues (namely a severe language disorder).
We ended up pulling DS from the special ed preschool because it was not good for him - great for some kids, but not for what our DS needed (which was some sensory therapy and lots of help with speech and social pragmatics).
My point being that I would be aware and educate yourself about the kinds of therapies and approaches available that could impact you little one, and then pay attention to OUTCOMES! Yes, listen to the EI folks and be open to what they say, but also pay attention to how your specific child is responding to specific interventions and then fine tune - keep what works and say no thank you to what doesn't. I know its hard, but trust your gut and watch your little one and you can't go wrong!
My other advice is that I had to become a very vocal advocate for our DS. Obviously don't be mean, but you might need to be aggressive sometimes. I found that being the squeaky wheel really helped us get the things we wanted for DS.
In the end, even though the EI people were well meaning and dedicated, we ended up going with private therapists (some of which were covered by insurance and some that weren't, ugh) because we were able to really tailor things to our DS's needs.
I'd say the fact that you're already thinking about this means you will be great at navigating EI!
I've had two kids in EI. DS1 aged out into the school services and DS2's journey is just beginning really. EI can be great, it can be awful, often it is somewhere in between. Like another poster said, take it for what it is. We ended up with an amazing therapist for DS1 through EI, we love her so much that I still continue to pay her on the side to see him after he had hit his 3rd birthday. I'm hoping to get DS2 switched to her as well. The system can be frustrating but frankly I find it much easier then dealing (battling) with the school district for all of DS's therapies. Which is a whole other nightmare. In our area, Ei and the school district services are all intermingled, some things are separate, some things are mixed, it makes it frustrating when you don't see eye to eye with some of the main people....
I really could not say enough good things about DS1's actual therapists and therapy though, he received some excellent care and his main therapist went above and beyond what she had to do (on her own "free" time) to attend DS1's numerous private evals when I was getting him dxed as ASD. EI didn't agree with that diagnosis so she REALLY went out on a limb for us.
Like the other poster, I don't rely on just EI or the school district for my kid's therapies. Back when we thought things were just a simple speech delay, I did, but once we realized there was more going on, we also went with other private therapists as well that can offer more services then what EI is limited to.
DS had early intervention, and it worked *wonders* He went from hardly being able to vocalize at all (very unintelligible) to having 20-30 words he could speak pretty clearly in the 2-3 months he was in. It was amazing, to me, to see how quickly his speech improved!
That's the only experience I've had with EI, since where we were living when DD was young enough to qualify didn't have anything like that, but I would imagine it's pretty much like what the other posters have said, it depends on where you live, and what specific issues your DC needs help with.
If you mean is early intervention important VS the wait and see approach, I would loudly chime in with, "Early intervention is very important!!" ( I have even watched our local pediatricians recommend that families wait until the child is older "because some children catch up on their own".) Therapists are trained to look for different things than physicians tend to see.
But I would agree with previous posters that specific early intervention programs vary state to state. A good EI program will empower you as a caregiver to be your child's best therapist. They will teach you how to incorporate therapy strategies into everyday living and make every moment count. And I agree that YOU are the best advocate for your little one. Do your research and push for what is right for your child.
Good luck to you and your little one!
I found private therapy to be much better the first year. Early Intervention has a lot of need based therapies. Until you can establish a "need"by showing a delay etc it's hard to get the services that you want. My dd had a brain injury at birth and we knew we needed her in therapy asap. We started at 21 days. But EI would not have given us even 1/3 of it. We did a lot of Feldenkrais work and some with Anat Baniel for motor therapy in the early days. We found several therapists that took our insurance, which was awesome. I think without an established well known risk like Down syndrome etc it's hard to get much out of EI before the child is 12 months. Sometimes even older.
It may depend on your area.
We were able to determine a 'need' for therapy through EI at 6 months and my DDs were premature, but had no other diagnosing condition at the time.
We had OT, PT, and later-- speech/feeding.
EI was fabulous!! Some of it depends on your state, your therapists, and your local support.
We also did private therapy starting at 1.5 years- so doubled up off/on until DDs were 3 & 5. The tough one with private is that we had X amount of sessions per calendar year and that was for all therapies-- not specific to each kind. We always ran out before the year was over and luckily had EI to cover the gap (while they came year round).