Supporting Infant and Early Child Development: What is Early Intervention
Infants and toddlers learn a tremendous amount in their first three years of life. Sometimes a child’s development doesn’t progress as expected, and a child needs some extra help in meeting developmental milestones. Early intervention is meant to help infants and toddlers meet their developmental goals in key areas including:
- Physical skills (reaching, crawling, walking, drawing, building)
- Cognitive skills (thinking, learning, solving problems)
- Communication skills (talking, listening, understanding others)
- Self-help or adaptive skills (eating, dressing)
- Social or emotional skills (playing, feeling secure with others and feeling happy)
- Sensory processing skills (handling textures, tastes, sounds, smells)
Early intervention refers to a system of services that supports infants and toddlers up to age three with developmental delays or disabilities, or in some cases are at risk, and their families including: assistive technologies, audiology or hearing services, speech and language, occupational, or physical therapy, nursing or other nutrition services, medical services, physical therapy, psychological services and resources for parents to better understand and promote their child’s development. When developmental delays and disabilities are identified early, “early intervention can mitigate or even eliminate the long-term effects on children’s language, cognitive, motor and social development, while possibly reducing the need for intensive special education later.” (https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/2067-early-intervention-a-critical-support-for-infants-toddlers-and-families )
Early intervention services are provided under Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Through grants to each state from the federal government, infants and toddlers may receive an evaluation, and if found eligible, services free of charge. Early intervention also offers services that support the families of children receiving early intervention services. While states vary in how they define eligibility, all states are mandated to provide therapies and supports provided by professionals to all children who qualify. (https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/develop...) Eligibility is determined by an evaluation (with parents’ consent). Eligible children can receive early intervention services from birth through their third birthday (and sometimes beyond).
Resources on Your Child’s Early Development
Take advantage of free and trustworthy resources to better understand child development and to make sure your child is on track for meeting his developmental milestones. The below list of resources is not meant to be exhaustive. The nonprofit, Zero to Three, provides resources to parents on the central role you play in your child’s early development and activities you can do to support your child’s healthy development as does the American Academic of Pediatrics. (https://www.zerotothree.org/parenting) (https://www.healthychildren.org/english/ages-stages/pages/default.aspx). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers resources for parents on developmental milestones, tools for tracking your child’s development, questions to ask your pediatrician if you have concerns (https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/concerned.html), as well as information on developmental screenings and seeking an evaluation from a specialist. The U.S. Department of Education maintains a list of resources and organizations to help families learn about their child’s development and organization and supports. (https://www2.ed.gov/about/inits/ed/earlylearning/inclusion/resources-for-families.html) Every state has at least one Parent Center funded by the federal government to provide information and guidance to families of children with disabilities which can be an excellent resource on your state’s early intervention process, may host parent workshops on topics including parent advocacy and offer free legal services. You can find your Parent Center at: http://www.parentcenterhub.org/find-your-center/.
If you have any concerns about your child’s development, it’s a good idea to keep a notebook with your observations and dates for you to share specific instances or patterns with your pediatrician and early intervention.
How to Access Early Intervention? Parents Can Request an Evaluation with Early Intervention!
You know your child best. While your pediatrician, early childhood educators and grandparents can refer a child for an early intervention evaluation, parents, who are concerned about their child’s development, can refer their child to Early Intervention and ask to have your child evaluated free of charge or seek a private evaluation. You can seek an evaluation even if your pediatrician is not concerned about your child’s development but you are. The key is to trust your instincts and to seek an evaluation as early as possible, given how rapidly young children develop, and how critical early intervention can be in reducing and closing gaps in development. The Parent Center Hub (http://www.parentcenterhub.org/parent-participation-ei/) also offers a resource on the importance of parent involvement in Early Intervention, including your right to be involved in decision making throughout the process.
Find Your Community’s Early Intervention Program
Visit the ECTA Center’s early intervention website to find your community’s early intervention program: http://ectacenter.org/contact/ptccoord.asp. When you call, you can explain that you are concerned about your child’s development and that you would like to have your child evaluated under Part C of IDEA. Be sure to write down any important information including your community’s early intervention program name and contact information or what is known as Child Find as you move through the early intervention process. Child Find operates in every state to identify babies and toddlers who need early intervention services because of developmental delays or disability.
45 Day Timeframe For Determining Eligibility for EI
When the early intervention system receives a referral about a child with a suspected disability or developmental delay, the early intervention system must complete screening (if used in the state), an initial evaluation and any assessments of your child and your family, and write an IFSP (if a child has been found eligible for EI services) with 45 days of receiving the referral.
The Evaluation and Assessment Process
Once connected with either Child Find or your community’s early intervention program, you will be assigned a service coordinator, who will explain the early intervention process and serve as your point of contact with the early intervention system. Under the IDEA, evaluation and assessments are provided at no cost to parents.
The evaluation group will be made up of multidisciplinary team with expertise in the areas related to early child development including: speech and language skills, physical/ motor abilities and hearing and vision to determine if your child is eligible for early intervention services. As part of the evaluation, the team will observe and interact with your child and gather information about how your child functions. Your family’s service coordinator should explain to you what’s involved in your child’s particular evaluation. Parents must provide your written consent before screening and/or evaluation may take place. You as the parent/s and the EI team will then meet to review all of the results and written reports to discuss whether the findings mean that your child is eligible for EI services under Part C of the IDEA and your state’s policy. Your service coordinator should provide you with “information about the specific test and methods used, your child’s responses and what the scores mean. You can give your opinion about whether or not the evaluation showed your child’s strengths and difficulties, or if you think more information is needed.” (https://www.understood.org/en/learning-attention-issues/treatments-approaches/early-intervention/6-things-to-do-if-youre-denied-early-intervention?view=slideview). Part C eligibility is determined by your state’s definition of developmental delays and whether it includes children at risk for disabilities. States have a lot of discretion for determining eligibility for programs. If your child is determined to be eligible for Early Intervention services, the next step is for you and your EI team to develop an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP).
Know Your Rights
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is designed to protect the rights of children with disabilities and their parents’ rights. Be sure to ask your EI Service Coordinator to inform you of your rights at each step of the EI and IFSP process. Each state publishes information about their specific Early Intervention program that will include information about procedural safeguards. You can look up state specific resources at: http://ectacenter.org/topics/procsafe/stateonlinec.asp
If you disagree with the results of an evaluation, your child is found ineligible for EI services, or you are concerned your child isn’t receiving the services he needs, you can challenge the decision. You can request to meet with officials to talk about concerns through mediation. You can also request an impartial hearing (due process). You can also ask your service coordinator to help you find services in your community. Understood.org has a great resource on things to do if your child is found ineligible for early intervention at: (https://www.understood.org/en/learning-attention-issues/treatments-appro...).
The Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) – a Plan for Your Child & Your Family
If your child is found to qualify for early intervention services, you will be involved in creating an IFSP which is a written plan of action for your child and family that outlines the services necessary to facilitate your child’s development and your family’s capacity to support your child’s needs. A guiding principal of the IFSP is that the family is a child’s greatest resource and that a young child’s needs are closely tied to the needs and strengths of his or her family. Thus, “throughout the IFSP process, family members and service providers work as a team to plan, implement, and evaluate services specific to the family's concerns, priorities, and available resources.” (https://www.ericdigests.org/2001-4/ifsp.html)
By law, services must be provided in your child’s “natural environments” where you and your child feel most comfortable – your home, child care program, and community –to the maximum extent possible. The IFSP may also identify services your family may be interested in such as financial information or information about raising a child with a disability. Your service coordinator will work with you to coordinate the services outlined in your child’s IFSP. You must give your written consent before the plan goes into action. If you feel a certain service or service provider isn’t right for your child, you can decline a service at any time. This won’t hurt your child’s chances for receiving other services.
Resources on IFSPs
Each state has specific guidelines for the IFSP. Many states have online resources for parents and professionals regarding the state’s approach to IFSPs and service delivery. You can connect with your state’s early intervention website through the ECTA Center’s list, at: http://ectacenter.org/contact/contactsurl.asp?gc=101.
Understood.org also offers guidance on how prepare meetings to discuss your child’s IFPS. https://www.understood.org/en/learning-attention-issues/treatments-approaches/early-intervention/6-tips-for-creating-your-childs-ifsp#slide-2. The ECTA Center is the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center also offers information on early intervention, including on the IFSP. At Resources for Writing Good IFSP Outcomes. The Center for Parent Information and Resources (CPIR) also offers a resource on Writing the IFSP. You can also learn more about the components of the IFSP at https://www.understood.org/en/learning-attention-issues/treatments-approaches/early-intervention/at-a-glance-anatomy-of-an-ifsp.
How Often Are IFSPs Reviewed?
Given how rapidly babies and young children can grow and development, an IFSP is reviewed every six months and is updated at least once a year.
Transition Planning to Preschool: What Happens if Your Child Needs Services Past Early Intervention?
Many states will extend early intervention services beyond your child’s third birthday if needed. In addition, children older than three may be eligible for special education services under IDEA. These services pick up where early intervention leaves off. Your child’s IFSP should include a transition plan. Before your child’s third birthday, you and your child’s IFSP team should conduct a transition planning meeting to prepare for your child for transition (if applicable) out of Part C into Part B (special education services) of the IDEA. https://www.understood.org/en/learning-attention-issues/treatments-approaches/early-intervention/early-intervention-what-it-is-and-how-it-works. The Center for Parent Information and Resources (CPIR) also has a resource on the Transition to Preschool. The PACER Center: Champions for Children with Disabilities also has a resource called Preparing for Transition from Early Intervention to an Individualized Education Program. (http://www.pacer.org/parent/php/php-c158.pdf)
Section 619 of Part B of the IDEA is the preschool program that provides special education services for children with disabilities between ages three and five. These services are provided at no cost to parents and are often provided in your child’s preschool classroom. If your child is eligible for Section 619 preschool, you become part of the team that reviews your child’s test results, reports and any other key information and an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for your child. A great resource on Section 619 is www.understood.org/en/learning-attention-issues/treatments-approaches/early-intervention/how-section-619-can-help-your-preschooler. Note: eligibility for services may be different for children enrolled at an independent school.