As parents, we have so many things to juggle in our daily lives, but the added stress about a potential “developmental delay” can make things even harder. But, there are ways to get help. A program exists called the Early Intervention Program that can assist in determining if you child needs some help in his/her development.
This article focuses on a program specific to children ages 0-3. I also speak mostly from my own experience with a toddler – this program offers services for babies as well!
After your child turns 3, there are still nation-wide programs offered through your local school district’s Special Education programs.
My Journey To Help
When my son turned 2, he displayed definite signs of needing help both physically and verbally. He knew many words but had a hard time forming sentences and meeting the “normal expectations” for language at his age. And, he was (and is) a super active toddler that has a very difficult time sitting still or focusing on a single task (unless it was running, jumping, climbing, splashing or anything else physical).
There was nothing “wrong” with my son, but I knew I needed tools to better understand how to work with him.
At his 2-year checkup with his pediatrician, I asked for advice on books to read or tactics to try to further his language skills and increase his focus. The pediatrician immediately gave me the phone number for the local Early Intervention Program. Of course, as soon as I got home I Googled what in the world that was…
What Is The Early Intervention Program?
The Early Intervention Program (you may see it abbreviated as EIP) is a program funded by the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Basically, the government provides each state with funds to find, evaluate and, if applicable, provide services for kids who need assistance hitting developmental milestones. The goal of the program is to ensure each child is capable of succeeding in school.
Each state is responsible for running and outlining the guidelines under which they provide services. Some services are free but others do have a fee (though mine was covered by health insurance minus a deductible). Most programs will never deny services your child qualifies for because of inability to afford them. Many operate on a sliding scale based on income and may have financial assistance.
The services provided by an office may differ by state, but the common ones are (see near the end of the article for more potential services):
- Speech and Language Therapy
- Occupational Therapy (working on body movement and skills without a physical limitation)
- Physical Therapy (neuromuscular development issues, etc)
- Behavior Therapies
What Is The Process?
The first thing I would suggest is to write down your specific concerns about your child:
- How is the potential issue affecting your child (and yourself)?
- What have you tried to help your child?
- If applicable, have you noticed anything that triggers certain behavior?
A lot of this information will be covered later but having this information to reference when you aren’t either talking to someone or staring at paperwork helps!
Here is basically what to expect (please refer to your local office when calling to confirm the correct steps!):
- Call the applicable office and ask for an assessment
- Schedule assessment
- Fill out paperwork and mail it in
- Meet with a program officer for introductions and information gathering
- Have assessment (usually 2 hours long)
- Receive recommendations
- If applicable, start services on an agreed upon schedule and location (home, preschool or daycare)
It may sound like a lot, but since the program is backed by a government program, there are strict rules by which the process operates. It only took 2 weeks after my initial call to start services. Note that the process after the age of 3 can take 4 or more months to complete!
What Is The Assessment Like?
My experience of the assessment itself was going into a large room with toys for my son and chairs for the adults to sit in. My husband and I sat down with three people: a speech therapist, behavioral therapist and an occupational therapist (our “case” manager (admin) was in the background listening at times).
While my husband and I discussed our son with two therapists, one of the therapists went and interacted with my son through play, assessing him without him being aware of it happening. They all (one-by-one) took turns playing with our son while we talked about our concerns. When we were done, they went off to discuss while my son continued to play with toys.
They came back with their recommendation about 45 minutes later. They had warned us it would take some time because they wanted to be thorough and make sure they had a clear plan before talking us through the assessment results. That was it!
Will This Go On My Child’s Permanent Record?
My husband was especially worried any services our son received would go on his permanent record and follow him through his older schooling years. When your child turns 3, the program is no longer available. Here is what we learned:
- If you no longer need services after the age of 3, the EIP will retain records, but no record of your child’s involvement will enter the school system.
- If services are needed following the age of 3, you will need to contact your local school district (ours was in the Special Education department…which was not my favorite because of stigmas around what that signified for my son). You will sign a waiver to allow access to the previous records, and the services will now enter the permanent record for your child within the school system.
Just Make The Call
If you are like me, the last thing you ever want is to see the word disability or special education associated with your child. It took my husband and I a long time to finally make the call to have our child assessed.
Asking for help is not something parents are conditioned to do. We all want that Instagram-perfect family. But the reality is that NOBODY has a “perfect” family. The one (and only) thing we truly need to worry about is making sure our kids are happy and healthy.
With that in mind, why wouldn’t you call to just have your child evaluated? If your child is assessed and you are told no services are needed, great! Now you can stop stressing! And if your child does need some help, great! You can stop worrying as much knowing your child (and you) will get help working through whatever the concern may be. It’s a win-win.
I’m glad I just made the call. The assessment both validated my concerns and alleviated other worries. Some things I thought were an issue were just normal for an active toddler.
The office I went through never pushed me into services, just told me what they saw and made recommendations. We went ahead with two services they recommended: speech and occupational therapy. Since I’m a stay-at-home-mom, they came to my house every other week for each type (frequency and timing will come as a recommendation from the assessment).
But I get it. It’s hard. Sometimes your child is just on the edge, not quiiiiiite where he or she “should” be. You may think it’s all in your head – all kids are different, right? Yes, every single child is different. But you know your child better than anyone else in the world. You are the only person capable of understanding your child’s current struggles.
I’m not saying to race to the phone and call now before it’s too late (though the earlier the intervention the better). Take some time. Watch your child. Work with your child. Not seeing any improvement? Maybe after some thought you will know what’s right for your child. Assessment or not, the fact that you are reading this means you want the best for your child. Regardless of how your concerns make you feel about yourself, you are a good parent.
Answers From An EIP Provider
I sent a questionnaire to the center where my son received services through EIP, Kindering. Here are my questions and the answers from Innovations Officer Colleen S. Willis:
1) When should parents think about having their child assessed and what age ranges do you work with?
Kindering provides comprehensive developmental assessments for children ages birth to 3. A parent may contact us as soon as they have a concern about their child’s development.
2) Is it ever “too late” to help a child?
There are ample studies to show that earlier is better but development is a continuum and each child is unique. Strides can be made regardless of when intervention is started.
3) What should a parent expect at an evaluation?
During the 120 minute evaluation meeting, the first part will involve a team of 2-3 Kindering experts in child development, measuring tasks and assessing the child while they interact. Towards the end of the meeting, parents can expect to hear the results of that testing and recommendations for next steps, which may include specialized education and therapies.
4) How is the program funded and how much can parents expect to pay out-of-pocket?
We accept most insurance plans and families are typically responsible for their deductibles and co-pays. If a family prefers they can pay a monthly fee based on their income. Kindering does not turn away families, based on their financial need.
5) What are all the services available in the Early Intervention program?
Early intervention may include family resource coordination, family support services, specialized education, physical, occupational, speech and language therapy, parent/child play groups, classroom options, feeding therapy and specialized programming for children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders as well as programming for children with visual impairment.
6) How would a parent find their local office to contact?
We have a dedicated referral line for Kindering that a parent may call: 425-653-4300. Or, parents may fill out an intake form online at kindering.org/referrals.
7) If a parent’s child needs assistance, how does a typical session work?
If a parent or doctor are concerned with a child’s development, the first step is a comprehensive development evaluation. After the developmental evaluation, the team of specialists will decide what therapies and education are recommended for the child and develop an individualized family services plan (IFSP). The majority of Early Intervention Services are performed in the child’s natural setting such as home or daycare.
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