When our son was 18 months old, my husband and I were told that his chronic ear infections had led to a pair of repeatedly perforated eardrums and 25 percent hearing reduction to boot. Luckily, tubes cleared the infections — and the hearing loss — right up. But Julian’s inability to say more than a few words at nearly 2 years prompted our ENT to recommend he be evaluated for a speech delay through Early Intervention.
As an adoptive parent, I was familiar with EI, as post-institutionalized kids often come home with developmental delays. But as we began the process with Julian, I discovered that most biological parents I knew had only a vague understanding of what Early Intervention services are and who can get them. Here’s a quick guide to the basics:
- What is Early Intervention? EI is a federally funded, state-run program that provides support for infants and toddlers with disabilities or who are at risk for having significant developmental delays. “Disabilities” at this age can be anything from severe special needs to feeding difficulties to delays in fine-motor skills, communication, or muscle development.
- Who’s eligible? EI services are provided in all 50 states (as well as Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico) and are free to any child who qualifies based on an evaluation, regardless of family income. Officially, kids age out of Early Intervention at 3, or at the time they enter preschool and are eligible to be evaluated for an Individualized Education Program (IEP).
- Which services are offered? According to the U.S. Department of Education, Early Intervention services are intended to address the “physical, cognitive, communication, social-emotional, and adaptive developmental needs” of infants and toddlers. Based on her evaluation, a child may be recommended for a long list of services, including speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and counseling. The families of kids receiving EI services are also provided with training and support.
What is the evaluation process? The specific agencies involved in Early Intervention vary state to state, but the basic process is the same everywhere. The steps include:
- Referral: If you suspect your child may have a delay or disability, your pediatrician or preschool can refer you to your local Early Intervention office.
- Coordination: An Initial Service Coordinator will be assigned to your case to walk you through Early Intervention services and the evaluation process.
- Evaluation: As a parent, it’s your right to choose which approved agency will evaluate your child. Often there will be more than one evaluation for a specific concern.
- The IFSP meeting: If your child is deemed eligible for Early Intervention, an Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP) meeting will be held to determine which services are needed and how often they’ll be given.
- What if you disagree? If you’re unsatisfied with the Early Intervention process at any point, you have the right to express your concerns and request changes. No one knows your child better than you, so don’t be afraid to speak up.
- For more information: Check out the U.S. Department of Education’s site or do an Internet search for Early Intervention Services in your state.