How to Receive Early Intervention Services for
Young Children with Disabilities

By Gail Lincoln, Parent Advocacy Coach

Sitting at a beautiful Maine beach, watching your young child explore and interact with other children, you notice and suspect that he may not be developing at the same rate as other children. Daily, as you continue to love, play and engage with him, you become more concerned that he may have a developmental delay or learning and attention issues. There are important steps you can take to help figure it out. First, you will want to talk with your child’s pediatrician. The pediatrician may confirm your observations and advise you to seek early intervention services. The nation’s special education law, Individual Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) provides rights and protections to children with disabilities and their parents or legal guardians, from birth to graduation or age 21.

Early intervention services are provided in every state under IDEA. The federal government provides grants for children who qualify for services free of charge or at a low cost. Early intervention assists children in meeting developmental stages through a wide range of services. These services help children specifically in their developmental stage by using explicit strategies, methods and goals to increase their opportunities for achievement. Early intervention is implemented for children with developmental delays and specific health conditions that may lead to delays, from birth to age 3. These health conditions include genetic disorders, birth defects and hearing loss, but may not include attention issues like dyslexia and ADHD.

After contacting Child Development Services, Maine Department of Education, an early intervention coordinator will assist you in seeking initial screening and later, an evaluation to determine if your child is eligible for services. Some states may consider a child at risk for a developmental delay due to low birth weight, drug exposure and other environmental concerns. Once the state says a child is eligible for early intervention services, a specialist will work with the parent in developing an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP). This IFSP defines goals and the types of services that will assist the parents, and help children to catch up and increase their chances for progress in school and life skills.

Some home or community services for babies and toddlers may include physical skills (reaching, crawling, walking, drawing, building), cognitive skills (thinking, learning, solving problems), communication skills (talking, listening, understanding others), self-help or adaptive skills (eating, dressing, brushing teeth), social or emotional skills (playing, interacting with others), and sensory processing skills (handling textures, tastes, sounds, smells).

Some early intervention programs may include one or more of these services: screening and assessment, speech and language therapy, physical or occupational therapy, psychological services, medical, nursing, or nutrition services, hearing or vision services, social work services and transportation. The service coordinator will help you select and schedule the services based on your concerns and the evaluation. It is important for you to contribute what your child is and isn’t able to do independently to assist with the evaluation. The evaluation may include standardized tests or direct observations to learn more about your child’s skills, strengths and weaknesses and to plan services and write the IEP. You will be included in all these necessary steps.

The early intervention services frequently last up to age three. However, services may be extended if needed. Furthermore, once a child is older than three, he/she may be eligible for special education services under the Individual Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). If this is the case, the service coordinator will set up a planning meeting to discuss the transition for extending the services and help determine the next goals. This meeting will help the parents learn how to prepare their child for the next steps. The child may be eligible for preschool special education. A member of the local school district will work with the parents to get a current evaluation and to write Individual Education Plan (IEP). As a parent, you are an important member of the IEP team and your input, observations and concerns are greatly valued.

Early intervention will make a difference in a child’s development. If you have any concerns and/or questions in any developmental stage, evaluation and IEP sessions or services make sure to write them down. The service coordinator will explain them and answer any questions you many have. Sometimes hearing evaluations and IEPs can be an overwhelming experience. Take notes and record the sessions to help recall what was discussed.

A lot of natural learning and development happens in the first three years of a child’s life. If your child is showing signs of developmental delays or has a diagnosed disability, these early intervention services facilitate deeper engagement and learning experiences for your child. They can, with your support make a tremendous difference in your child’s development, social interactions, independence and achievements!

Maine Department Of Education, Child Development Services Maine Parent Federation Phone: 207-588-1933 Toll Free: 1-800-870-7746

Gail Lincoln, has a Master’s of Education, 39 years experience teaching special and regular education, an interventionist, reading specialist, and parental advocacy coach. Strong knowledge of the Individual with Disabilities Act, the American Disabilities Act, 504 Rehabilitation Act, the Fair Housing Act, Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, and the Human Rights Act to provide parent education and specialized services, accommodations, and assistive technologies to students with IEPs and 504s. She has the ability to provide information on policies, and the rights and responsibilities while maintaining clear guidelines and specific details for student success and personal development.