What is Early Intervention?
Early Intervention is a group of therapy services designed to help your baby or toddler with either a disability or developmental delay. The therapy is designed to focus on helping your child develop existing or new skills during the first three years of their life, including:
- Physical skills (crawling, walking, rolling or reaching)
- Cognitive Thinking (learning, solving problems, thinking)
- Communication skills (listening, understanding, talking)
- Social / Emotional Skills (playing, feeling happy and secure)
- Self-Help (dressing, eating)
What is IDEA?
The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law, with state agency oversight, that supports the provision of public education for all children, regardless of the nature or severity of their disability or developmental delay.
Who is eligible?
Eligibility is determined once your child has had a evaluation (with your consent), to determine that they actually have either a disability or developmental delay. Services can then be provided from birth through their third birthday, possibly longer. Many times, during a routine checkup, if your pediatrician sees a condition (very low weight at birth, having a needed surgery, etc.) they may provide you with a referral to a local early intervention office or specialist. EI evaluations are always provided free of service. Also, many times all EI fees are paid by the State until your child’s third birthday.
What is a developmental delay?
Each State has a slightly different definition for what they consider a developmental delay. Click here to check your state’s definition.
The broad definition is that a child has some delay in one of the five main areas of development:
- Cognitive development
- Physical development, including vision and hearing
- Communication development
- Social or emotional development
- Adaptive development
Concerns about your baby or toddler development?
It’s common for parents to become concerned when their “perfect” baby or toddler doesn’t seem to be developing as they believe is “correct.” Maybe their four friends’ babies have all rolled over by now and your baby has not, etc. Here is a quick Baby Milestones schedule to use as a reference.
If you still feel concerned, then first speak to your child’s pediatrician about your child. Explain your concerns and what you think is wrong. You can also go directly to an EI center or approved evaluator. They can evaluate your child, free of charge, and either put your mind at ease, or help you get become eligible for early intervention services. Click here for a list of EI providers here in Illinois.
What is the Evaluation process?
You will start by being assigned a Service Coordinator, who will be your point of contact through the evaluation. Your coordinator will get your written consent to perform the evaluation and may schedule a preliminary screening (depending on your state).
The evaluation will be done by a group of qualified professionals, each with different areas of training and expertise. Together, they know about children’s language and speaking skills, their physical abilities, hearing, vision and other areas of growth. They train and work with small children, and are adept at observing and evaluating what they do, how they act and respond, etc. to measure how your child is doing across the five disciplines.
*NOTE: Your child will not be required to do the evaluation if they have previously been diagnosed with a physical or mental condition that has a high probability of causing a developmental delay.
The results of the evaluation will be reviewed with you by the team to discuss under IDEA and state policy, to determine if your child meets the criteria for eligibility.
If your child has been determined eligible for EI services, they will then have an initial assessment to determine their exact needs within each of the five areas. Your family may then have an assessment to evaluate the concerns, resources, skills and priorities regarding the development of your child.
*NOTE: All evaluations and assessments, under IDEA, are paid for at no cost to you (funded by the State and Federal funds).
Who writes the IFSP (Individualized Family Service Plan)?
After the evaluation, the evaluation team (with you), will sit down and review the results. From those results, and with your goals from the family assessment, the team will produce an IFSP. Each state has specific guidelines for the IFSP, and your service coordinator can explain those that are applicable to your state.
The IFSP basically outlines the early intervention services that your child and family will receive and contains all the necessary information to document and monitor your child’s progress. It is normally reviewed and updated every six months.
What about evaluation timelines?
After the Early Intervention system receives a referral for your child, they have 45 days to complete the following:
- Initial Screening (if required by your state)
- Initial Evaluation
- Initial Child & Family Assessments
- Writing the IFSP
Who pays for the therapy services?
While all evaluation and assessment fees are paid by the State, EI service payment responsibilities differs from state to state. Make sure to check with your Service Coordinator and ask for a written payment schedule so you know exactly what, if any, your responsibility will be.
What’s Free to Families?
Part C of IDEA, the following services must be provided at no cost to you:
- Child Find Services
- EI evaluations and assessments
- Development / Review of the IFSP
- Service Coordination
Some states do not pay for “all” of the other service fees (they may be yours, or your insurance). Each state is a little different and many use a sliding scale, which assigns payments based on your earnings. Some services can be covered by insurance, Medicaid or Indian Health Services. Part C may ask for your permission to access your insurance in order to pay for the EI services for your child. In most cases, the EI system may not use your insurance without your express, written content. If you do not give such consent, the system may not limit or deny your or your child services.
*NOTE: Every effort is made to make EI services available to any child that needs them, even if the family is not able to pay for them.