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Infants and Toddlers Early Intervention Basics
Special education services for children with disabilities can, in theory, begin at birth. Although it is not possible to diagnose a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) at birth, children can begin accessing services even before receiving an actual diagnosis. Beginning intervention as early as possible is important because research has shown that early intervention services increase the chances for better outcomes for children on the autism spectrum.
The Infants and Toddlers Early Intervention system is a network of programs and services designed to provide a comprehensive, coordinated, and collaborative system of supports for children under the age of 3 and their families. It is an effective way to help young children "catch up" or address specific developmental concerns as soon as possible. The goal of Early Intervention is to ensure children are ready for preschool and kindergarten.
Sometimes Infants and Toddlers Early Intervention is referred to as "EI," "Birth to 3," "0-3," "Birth through 2," or "0 through 2." Early Intervention services may also be called "Part C services" because the right to Early Intervention services between the ages of 0 and 3 comes from Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The IDEA is a federal law that governs Early Intervention and special education for the entire nation. States also have laws and regulations that must be followed, but no state (or local government or school board) can take away any rights provided by the federal law.
The IDEA in Part C acknowledges that significant brain development occurs during a child's first 3 years of life. The results of developmental delay can add up over time, making it more difficult to change developmental course. Young children on the autism spectrum (or who show early warning signs for ASD) present with a number of developmental concerns, including language, play, behavior, and more general social-emotional issues. Because there are multiple areas of development impacted by ASD, children on the autism spectrum benefit from targeted interventions designed to lessen the effects of the delays.
Before Early Intervention services can begin, a team will assess your child's particular needs. Your child will have a Multidisciplinary Evaluation, and the results will be written up in an Evaluation Report. The report will explain whether or not your child is eligible for Early Intervention Services. If your child is eligible, the Evaluation Report will be used to create an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) for your child. Also, a Service Coordinator will be assigned to your family. This Service Coordinator will help you schedule and keep track of the special services your child has been found to need, and which you, as the parent, agree to. These services will include not only therapy to help your child, but also supports – such as parent training – to help your family. Your child's Evaluation Report and IFSP will be updated once a year until your child is three years old. As your child approaches his or her third birthday, he or she will be reevaluated to determine eligibility for Preschool Special Education. If you have problems along the way, you can contact your Service Coordinator for help. There are also dispute resolution procedures and procedural safeguards, which are designed to help resolve disagreements which may occur.