My 3-year-old is really struggling in preschool. I’ve heard that some kids get free speech therapy in the public elementary school. Do we have to wait until then? Or can my preschooler get free speech therapy and other services now?
Some preschoolers can get free services, including speech therapy. Just like early intervention for babies and toddlers, there are special services for young kids (ages 3–5) who qualify for special education. In fact, your child doesn’t even need to be in preschool. Kids in daycare and at home may be able to get services, too.
Not every child qualifies, though. Your state will have specific rules to decide who’s eligible. In general, your child must be delayed in development to qualify. Or your child has to have a disability in one of 13 legal categories.
There are two ways you can get the ball rolling. One way is to talk to your medical provider. Your doctor, nurse, or clinic is likely to have experience working with kids to get services. At the very least, they can connect you to the right resources.
The other way is to contact the local school district where you live. The district is required to evaluate kids who may qualify for services, even if they aren’t in school yet.
The evaluation helps the district understand kids’ needs to decide if they qualify. As part of the evaluation, school staff may look at your child’s communication skills. They may also speak with you about your child’s challenges, and how they impact learning.
If your child qualifies for services, then you may have some choices to make. If your child goes to a private preschool, you may want to think about switching to a public school. Some public grade schools have preschool programs for kids who qualify for special education. (Kids in daycare or at home have this option, too.)
If your child goes to a private preschool and you decide to stay there, you may get some free services. But your child might have to travel to the public school for them. And you’d likely get fewer services in a private school than if your child attended a public school.
Lastly, every state has someone called a 619 coordinator who can help you. (The number “619” comes from the name of the law that funds these services). If you need help getting access to services, you can always call this person to ask questions. Find the 619 coordinator in your state.