Carmella had just returned from her pediatrician’s office with the news that Edward, her beautiful eleven-month-old boy, may have autism. Carmella had worried that Edward had a disability because she had noticed that he didn’t seem to be developing the same as other children his age. Edward didn’t babble or point or wave bye-bye like other children she knew. He didn’t respond to his name and seemed to be in his own world. The pediatrician had said that while she thought Edward may have autism, it would be best to get additional assessments. She told Carmella that Edward could be eligible for early intervention services under a law called Part C. These early intervention services could make a significant difference in Edward’s development. Part C would also help with getting additional evaluations. Carmella knew there was a law requiring special education for school children with disabilities. She had known kids in special education when she was in high school. But Edward was not even a year old and too young for school. Are there really services for children as young as Edward?
Yes, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), under a section called Part C, requires that infants and toddlers with disabilities receive early intervention services to enhance their development and to minimize developmental delay. The following are some questions and answers regarding early intervention services for infants, toddlers, and their families:
1. What is Part C of the IDEA? Part C requires that each state have a statewide system to deliver early intervention services to children with disabilities from birth through age two. It is different than the IDEA’s Part B which requires that children with disabilities aged three to twenty-one receive a free appropriate public education. Part C can provide services to meet the infant’s or toddler’s needs and to help the family meet their child’s special needs.
2. What are early intervention services? Early intervention services are special services for infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families. These services should identify and meet the children’s needs in the developmental areas of physical development, cognitive development, communication, social or emotional development, and adaptive development. Some examples of early intervention services include special instruction, occupational and physical therapy, speech-language pathology and audiology services, sign language and cued language services, service coordination, family training, counseling, and home visits.
3. Who are infants and toddlers with disabilities? An infant or toddler with a disability is a child, under the age of three, who needs early intervention services because the child is experiencing a developmental delay or the child has been diagnosed with a physical or mental condition that has a high probability of resulting in a developmental delay. A developmental delay means that the child is developing slower than normal in one or more areas. For example, at eleven months, Carmella’s son, Edward, was still not responding to his name, babbling, waving bye-bye, or pointing. Children normally have those skills at that age. You can find information on developmental milestones for young children at the PBS website www.pbs.org/wholechild/abc .
4. How do I find out if a child has a disability and is eligible for early intervention services?Children are determined eligible through a multidisciplinary evaluation. Multidisciplinary means that the evaluation is done by a team that includes qualified people who have different areas of training and experience. The team will observe the child, ask the child to do things, talk with the child and parents, and gather other information. If the team determines that the child needs early intervention services because the child is experiencing a developmental delay or has a diagnosed physical or mental condition, then the child will be eligible for services.
5. Who pays for the evaluation?The IDEA requires that evaluations and assessments be at no cost to the parents. The evaluations are paid by state and federal money.
6. How does the child get the early intervention services the child needs?The child will be assessed to identify their unique strengths and needs and the services that are required to meet those needs. There will also be a discussion about how to help the family meet the child’s developmental needs. A team, that includes the family, will meet to develop an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP). That plan will outline the services for the child and the family, how and where the services will be delivered, and who will deliver them. Early intervention services may be delivered through a variety of local providers and agencies. The IFSP will identify a service coordinator who is responsible for coordinating services through these local providers and implementing the plan. The service coordinator is also responsible for making sure the plan is reviewed as the child develops or needs change.
7. Where do I go in my state to find out about early intervention services under Part C? Each state has a lead agency that is responsible for ensuring that there is statewide system to deliver early intervention services. States vary as to which agencies are responsible as the lead agency. For a list of the lead agencies in each state and for more information on Part C of the IDEA you can go to the website of the National Early Intervention and Technical Assistance Center (NECTAC).
No parent wants to hear that their child has special needs because the child is not developing like other children. But early intervention services can improve the child’s rate of development, minimize further developmental delay, and help the family to meet the child’s needs. Service coordination under Part C can help connect the family to the services and supports that they need in their community. Early intervention services can make a difference.