Getting to Know the Special Needs System for Children

Finding help doesn’t have to be intimidating or frightening, as a parent of a kid with speech and social-emotional delays who has gone through the early intervention process can attest. You and your child will both have lots of help.

Getting An Evaluation

Your child’s age will dictate where you start. The IDEA requires every state to establish an Early Intervention (EI) program for children aged 0 to 3 that is either free or has a minimal cost. A licensed child-care provider or your child’s doctor can make the initial recommendation, but you have the legal right to request an examination on your own. Ask for the early-intervention office at your state’s health department or simply search “early intervention in” and your state’s name. Make sure to inquire if you have any questions. Counselors are trained to be sensitive to your feelings of uncertainty and worry.

To begin the process, you’ll be assigned a service coordinator who will assist you in understanding your rights, selecting an evaluation provider, and scheduling appointments. You should expect to have an Individual Family Assistance Plan (IFSP) meeting within 45 days of your child’s evaluation. At this point, you’ll learn what services he or she qualifies for.

This may all sound overwhelming to you, but your child is not feeling the same way. In most cases, evaluations will be conducted in your house or a preschool-like center, and you’ll be able to choose when and where they take place.

For children ages 3 to 5, you’ll need to contact your local public school system for assistance. When state-sponsored early-intervention programs end, school districts step in to help children who aren’t quite old enough for kindergarten. You can get in touch with the district’s special education office, which oversees the preschool special education program in your area. In contrast to EI exams, school-level evaluations look at your child as a student and should involve a classroom observation in addition to looking at your child’s growth.

Being Eligible To Use Certain Services

One of the five areas of development that must be delayed by at least 12 months in order for a child to be eligible for Early Intervention treatments is one of the five areas of development. Another state uses an objective scoring method and will offer treatment if your child scores at least 2.0 points below the mean in any one area, and/or scores 1.5 points below the mean in any of two different categories.

Bringing up any family difficulties that may be impacting your children, such as a recent divorce or an illness in the family, will assist your child’s therapists in getting the full picture. In addition, be sure to include any pertinent family information. Your child is at greater risk if a cousin has autism or an older sibling received early intervention therapy.

A good pediatrician can be a huge asset if you decide to go beyond the resources provided by your school district’s early intervention program. There may also be programs for preschoolers that offer a variety of therapies. You may be able to enroll your child in a preschool program that focuses on her physical or occupational disabilities and yet provide her with speech therapy, even if she doesn’t qualify for them.

Developing a Circle of Friends and Family

You’ll be so focused on learning everything you can about your child’s problems that you may forget about your own needs. Don’t.

  • Find a parent advocate who has been through the process and can be present at all of your meetings with the intervention team. Parent volunteers are available in some EI programs; however, this is not always the case. You may need to find a friend on your own in other programs.
  • Once your child has an IFSP, you can request parental support services like counseling if he or she is under three and enrolled in the state’s early-intervention program. Be sure to inquire about this little-known perk.
  • For those late-night issues when you can’t call your normal companion or the mom on your committee, find an online community or start one locally through meetup.org. 
  • Get to meet other families with kids in the program, especially those whose kids are a bit older than yours. As a result of their experiences, these parents may provide you with motivational tales of their own. As someone who has been in your shoes and knows what you’re going through, they may not have all the answers, but they can offer a shoulder to lean on or perhaps hook you up with a playdate.