At a glance
To get early intervention services, most kids need an evaluation.
A doctor, nurse, clinic, or hospital can refer your child for an early intervention evaluation.
Before the evaluation, put together a list of your concerns and questions.
If your baby or toddler is behind other kids in development, you may be thinking about early intervention. These services may be free or low-cost, and they can help your child catch up. But how do you get the process going?
Kids diagnosed at birth with a serious challenge, like an illness or a genetic disorder, can get early intervention right away. But most other kids need an evaluation first.
Here are the steps for requesting an early intervention evaluation.
1. Make a list of concerns.
Start by making a list of your concerns and questions. For example, you may wonder if it’s OK that your toddler isn’t talking yet. Or you may be worried that your baby isn’t rolling over. Note this down.
If you feel up to it, look at typical milestones for your child’s age — birth to age 1, age 1, or age 2. These lists can help you understand where your child might be behind. But remember that all kids develop at different speeds.
2. Talk to your health care provider.
Once you have a list of your concerns, contact whoever sees your child for regular medical checkups. That may be a doctor, or it may be a nurse at a health care clinic or a hospital.
These health care professionals see dozens of very young kids. They know what’s typical and what’s not, and they can give you a referral for an evaluation. They’ll know who to contact to get the ball rolling. They might also have tips on how to speed up the process.
(If your family doesn’t have health care, visit this government website to learn about free or low-cost health insurance options.)
3. Contact your state’s early intervention center.
Every state has a center that helps families get early intervention for babies and toddlers. Your health care provider may have already given you a referral. If not, get the contact information for your state’s early intervention center and reach out.
Some of the state websites can be confusing. They may also require you to contact a local evaluation center. If you have trouble figuring out who to talk to, don’t give up. Dial the main number and stay on the line until you talk to someone who can help you.
4. Connect with your service coordinator.
At some point, you’ll give your child’s name and other information to the state’s early intervention center. Once your child gets into the system, you’ll be assigned a point person for your child. This person is usually called a service coordinator.
The coordinator will reach out to you and explain how early intervention works. Write down the coordinator’s contact information so you can get in touch if you need to.
5. Give consent to an evaluation.
The state can’t evaluate your child without your written consent. Before moving forward, you’ll be asked to sign paperwork saying that you agree to early intervention. In a few states, there’s an extra step: The coordinator does a brief screening to make sure your child’s challenges need an evaluation.
6. Follow up with the coordinator.
Once you’ve given consent, the next step is the evaluation. The coordinator will offer you a few dates and times. Make sure to choose one that fits into your work and family schedule. Then, follow up with the coordinator a day or two before. This helps to ensure that the appointment doesn’t fall through the cracks.
To understand what happens next, find out what to expect in an early intervention evaluation.
If your child is 3 or older, but hasn’t started school, you can learn about free preschool special education services.
Start by talking with your doctor, nurse, or clinic about early intervention.
If you don’t get a referral from your health care provider, contact the state’s early intervention center.
The state will assign a service coordinator as the point person for your child.
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About the author
About the author
The Understood Team is made up of passionate writers and editors. Many of them have kids who learn and think differently.
Amanda Morin is the author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education” and the former director of thought leadership at Understood. As an expert and writer, she helped build Understood from its earliest days.