“Parents know their children best. They are the best advocates for their children in the educational system.”
Worrying about whether your child might have a
developmental disability can be tough. Are you overreacting? Is your
pediatrician concerned? Should you just wait until your child is older before
you make the call?
Early intervention services are designed to diagnose your
child and provide the support and resources necessary to help him develop
age-appropriate physical, cognitive, communication, social/emotional, and
Talk to your
If you suspect your child may have a developmental
disability, the first step is to talk to his pediatrician, says Leann Coyle,
the director of preschools for Abilities First in Poughkeepsie. Your pediatrician
can then refer you to your county health department, and officials there will
walk you through the process of testing your child and securing services.
Look for flags
While there is no concrete age at which a child should be
tested, Coyle says missed developmental milestones are flags. If all the kids
in your child’s play group are rolling over, smiling, and waving and your child
is not, it’s a good idea to have him tested.
Claudia Stedge, a program administrator at Country Acres Center in Saugerties, advises voicing your concerns immediately. “The early
intervention program is just that — we provide services to address these delays
so that your child is functioning at his potential,” she says.
What to expect
While the prospect of an evaluation may seem nerve-wracking,
it’s actually a fun experience for many kids.
“Most children enjoy the evaluation whether or not they
are able to complete many of the tasks since it looks like play,” says Coyle.
A special education teacher and/or a therapist will come
to your home and take your child through a series of playful tasks to determine
whether or not he is progressing at a normal pace for his age group. A county
representative will also come to your home to complete an interview and talk
through early intervention services.
The teacher who evaluates your child will be trained in
the five areas of child development: motor, language, social, adaptive, and
cognitive. After the evaluation, she will share the results in a written report
“This allows parents to see not only what their children
are doing well, but also to pick up any concerns that they might not have been
aware of yet,” says Coyle. To qualify for services, a child must show a 25
percent delay in two of the development areas, or a 33 percent delay in one.
What’s an IFSP?
If your child meets the specific criteria for service
eligibility, an Individual Family Service Plan is written based on the child’s
needs and the parent’s input, says Stedge. “Outcomes are written based on what
the family wants the child to achieve with the team in the next six months.”
A message from our publisher: Learn to be your child's advocate
How much does it
Early intervention services are free for families.
“The service coordinators will ask for your insurance, as
some insurances will be billed as long as it is New York State regulated and
does not go against the child’s lifetime cap,” says Stedge.
What if my child
If your child was found ineligible for services, but you
are still concerned, you can typically request a re-evaluation after six
“The original report received from the first round of
evaluations lists the next stages in development and activities that parents
can do to foster development,” says Coyle. “Using those guidelines, you can
spend more time engaging in those developmental play activities.”
Stedge notes that you can also find a private therapist.
If your child’s speech is the only developmental area that
worries you, it’s still a good idea to request a comprehensive evaluation,
given that all areas of human development are connected. The evaluation will
diagnose which factors are affecting your child’s speech and in how many areas
he may need services.
Additionally, it’s a safe bet to have nonverbal toddlers
evaluated, even if other parents might tell you to wait. When children struggle
to communicate, it could lead to behavioral problems that stem out of
frustration down the road.
“Early testing can lead to early services, which provides
the child with support in communication and avoids frustration and tantrums,”
If your child continues to receive services as he enters
school, he will be placed on an Individualized Education Plan. An IEP is
implemented by the school district to make sure your child receives the
appropriate support and resources to stay on track in class.
Parents of children with IEPs can access community
resources, such as the Early Childhood Direction Center and Taconic Resources,
to learn about their rights and responsibilities and those of the school
district. Families and the school district will then have a meeting to discuss
To help your child get the most out of his IEP and to
prepare for the meeting, Coyle advises: “Be a part of the evaluations prior to
the meeting, consulting with team members to discuss test results, progress and
areas of concern. Be open to information and choices presented at the meeting.”
Choosing the right placement for your preschooler with special needs
Once children have been diagnosed, they will be
reevaluated yearly to update diagnoses and ensure the services they receive are
“A diagnostic statement from your neurologist or
developmental pediatrician can assist school districts in accurately
prescribing needed interventions and supports for your child’s education,”
However the evaluation turns out, the best thing you can
do for your child is enjoy unique experiences together and let him know he is
loved and accepted no matter what. Encourage him to develop interests and get
involved in the community, whether that’s through a sport, a music class, a
performing arts group, or another avenue that appeals to your child.
“Believe in your child’s potential and work with her or his
strengths. Parents know their children best. They are the best advocates for
their children in the educational system,” says Stedge.
Elora Tocci is a
freelance writer born and raised in the Hudson Valley. She currently works as a
communications manager for Teach For America in New York City.