Babies have lots of new skills to learn—lifting their heads, sitting up, saying their first words! Parents are often concerned when a child’s development seems slower than expected. Grandparents or child care providers may also voice concerns. If you’re worried that your baby is delayed in his development, it’s a good idea to share your concerns with your health care provider. Your community’s early intervention program can also be an important source of help.
What is “early intervention”?
The idea behind early invention is that a child’s developmental delays can be addressed best when they are discovered early. The Early Intervention Program for Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities (also known as Part C) is a federal program that provides for services and supports to children birth through 2 years old at risk for developmental delays or disabilities. These services can include speech–language therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, assistive technology, and more.
How do families contact early intervention?
You can request an early intervention evaluation for your baby or toddler to find out if your child qualifies for services. To locate the right agency in your community, see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention online list. You can also ask your child’s health care provider how to contact your local early intervention program.
When you call, explain that you are concerned about your child’s development and think your child requires early intervention services. Tell them you would like child to have your child evaluated under Part C of IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act).
Each state chooses how it determines eligibility for early intervention services. Most states require that children show a certain level of developmental delay to qualify. The evaluation will determine whether your child is eligible for services.
Some children are automatically eligible for early intervention services. This may include children born prematurely or diagnosed with a developmental issue before or immediately after birth. To learn more, contact your local early intervention program or ask your child’s health care provider.
Is there a cost?
There is no charge for an early intervention evaluation to determine if your child is eligible for services.
Depending on your state, there may be a charge on a sliding scale for services such as speech–language therapy, occupational therapy, or physical therapy. However, children cannot be denied services because their families are unable to pay.
What services can children and families receive?
If your child’s evaluation shows that she qualifies for services, then you and your child’s early intervention service coordinator will develop a plan for services. This plan is called the Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP).
The IFSP will include important information such as:
- your child’s current levels of development
- developmental goals for your child, which you help to identify
- what services your child and family will receive—such as home visits from a special educator, speech–language therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy
- when and how frequently your child will receive each service
- where your child will receive these services. Services are often provided in your child’s “natural environment”—such as your home or your child’s care setting
Your service coordinator will explain the IFSP to you. Ask any questions you might have. This meeting is also the time to ask for additional services that you believe may benefit your child and family. You must sign a form giving consent for each service your child receives. If you do not give consent, your child will not receive that service. The state has 45 days to complete the evaluation and IFSP process. This deadline means that your child will receive the services he needs as soon as possible.
Your child’s IFSP is a plan for her learning while in the early intervention program. You and your service coordinator will review the IFSP every 6 months and update it each year.
Does receiving early intervention mean that children enter special education later on?
No. Some families worry about participating in early intervention because they don’t want their child to be “labeled” when she enters school. But information about your child’s participation is not shared with her elementary school.
Children receive services for different lengths of time, depending on what they need. Some children participate for a short time to address a temporary delay in development. Other children may require follow-up special education services once they enter school.
If your child continues to be eligible for services past 3 years old, he will move from early intervention to special education services (or, from Part C to Part B). Your service coordinator will help you make the transition from one program to the next.