Early Intervention is a state-funded program that provides services to babies and toddlers with disabilities or developmental delays. Read on to learn how to refer a child for services and how early intervention can benefit your child and family.
Early Intervention Overview
Early Intervention (EI) is a program designed to meet the needs of infants and toddlers with developmental delays. The program provides support and resources to eligible children and their families.
These services are covered under Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). IDEA ensures that all children with disabilities can receive a free and appropriate public education to meet their unique needs.
Part C of IDEA specifically relates to infants and toddlers. A large amount of brain development occurs during the first three years of a child’s life. It is crucial to support a child’s development during the first few years. This is especially important for children with disabilities and developmental delays. In addition, it is important to strengthen every family’s ability to meet the unique needs of young children with disabilities.
When To Refer A Child to Early Intervention?
Early Intervention is a program for children from birth to age three.
Most children are referred to early intervention if their pediatrician or parent suspects a development delay or they are not meeting developmental milestones.
This includes children who are late to start walking and talking and also children with more significant or global delays.
Referral to Early Intervention
Making a referral to early intervention is as simple as calling up your local EI program and requesting an evaluation.
For more information on who to contact, check out this list from the CDC: Early Intervention contact information by state.
Although you don’t need a doctor’s referral for services, you should talk to your child’s pediatrician about any developmental concerns. The pediatrician should be able to guide you in the right direction. Furthermore, he or she can assist with any other referrals that may benefit your child.
The Early Intervention Evaluation
After a referral has been made, an evaluation will be done by the early intervention program. The evaluation will assess your child’s need for services. This process will differ depending on each EI program. Typically, a multidisciplinary team of EI therapists will perform a developmental evaluation. Furthermore, the team will ask the parents or caregivers many questions regarding the child’s development and behavior.
A specific developmental screening tool is used to perform the evaluation. The type of tool differs state by state. For example, in Massachusetts, we use the Batelle Developmental Inventory. This is a tool that assesses a child’s development in five different domains: cognitive, communication, motor, personal-social, and adaptive. The therapists who administer the test will present the tasks in a way that makes it fun for your child.
The therapists will let you know the results of the evaluation at the end of the assessment. In addition, they will tell you whether or not your child is eligible for early intervention services and discuss their recommendations.
What Qualifies a Child for Early Intervention Services?
Each state has its own guidelines regarding how children can qualify for an early intervention program. The following three modalities are the typical ways a child may be eligible for early intervention services.
If a child has evidence of a specific level of a delay in one or more areas of development, he or she will qualify for early intervention services.
This is based on the initial evaluation done by the EI program. As mentioned before, each state decides which diagnostic instrument or screening tool to use. Additionally, each state will determine how to define a developmental delay. Typically, a child must score under a certain level in one or more category of the test in order to qualify.
This chart from the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center provides more information on how each state defines eligibility for services.
A child without evidence of a developmental delay on the screening tool may still be eligible for early intervention services. If he has a certain number of factors that could put him at risk for experiencing a developmental delay, a child may still qualify for services.
For example, risk factors may include babies born prematurely, and children who are homeless or have experienced trauma.
Children with certain medical conditions will automatically qualify for early intervention services. These pre-established conditions are physical or mental conditions that are likely to result in developmental delay.
For instance, medical conditions that may qualify children for services include hearing impairment, autism, microcephaly, cerebral palsy, and cleft palate. These examples come from the Massachusetts approved conditions list. Keep in mind that these will vary state by state.
The Next Steps
If the evaluators determine your child is eligible for early intervention, you are given the choice to accept or decline services. You always have a choice!
If you choose to continue with services, your child will be assigned a service coordinator. This person will help do exactly what it sounds like they will do — coordinate your child’s early intervention services.
Often, the service coordinator may actually be the therapist coming to work with you and your child. The service coordinator will also help arrange additional specialty services such as physical therapy or speech therapy. Services are based on the needs of the child.
The first step after determining eligibility is to create an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP). This is a joint effort between you and your child’s early intervention team.
The IFSP is a document that reviews your concerns and priorities for your child. In addition, it details the goals and outcomes you want to work toward during your child’s experience in early intervention.
At the ISFP meeting, you will also discuss logistics such as:
- what type of services your child is going to receive
- where services will happen (at home, at daycare, at grandma’s house, etc)
- how frequently they will happen ( 1 hour per week, 1 hour per month, etc)
Who Are Early Intervention Therapists?
Early Intervention therapists come from a variety of different clinical backgrounds. The following are some disciplines you may work with throughout your EI experience:
- Speech and Language Pathologists
- Occupational Therapists
- Physical Therapists
- Registered Nurses
- Developmental Specialists
- Social Workers
- Music Therapists
- Dance and Movement Therapists
What Types of Things Can Early Intervention Help With?
Your early intervention therapist can work with you and your child to address any number of concerns. The following are development milestones or skills you and your child’s therapist may choose to focus on.
- Motor skills (sitting up, crawling, walking, pointing, grasping)
- Communication (sign language, gestures, eye contact, verbal communication, responding to and understanding others)
- Social skills (interacting with others)
- Play skills
- Increasing focus and attention
- Challenging behavior
- Feeding difficulties
- Sensory processing issues
- Self-care skills (eating, dressing, toilet training)
More Information About Early Intervention
If you have any concerns about your child’s development, I highly recommend contacting your local early intervention program. In addition, you should discuss your concerns with your child’s pediatrician.
Even if you’re not sure or think you might be overreacting, the early intervention team can conduct a thorough assessment and give you feedback regarding your child’s development.
We work with many children who have significant developmental delays and medical conditions. We also work with children who may just have delayed expressive communication skills (not talking) or are late walkers.
In conclusion, EI can help support and guide you on ways to help your child reach certain developmental milestones. For children with more significant delays, early intervention therapists are able to provide additional support. This includes connecting parents with other helpful resources in the community. Moreover, the EI team will help facilitate the process of transitioning to the local public school system for continued services when a child ages out of early intervention.
Have additional questions? Feel free to contact me!
Are you a parent with a child in early intervention? I’d love to hear about your experience!