Preschoolers can indeed receive services at no cost to families. Just like early intervention programs and services for children ages birth to age 3, there are special services for preschoolers (ages 3–5) who are found to be eligible for special education.
There are two ways you can get the ball rolling. One way is to talk to your child’s doctor. She’s likely to have had a lot of experience with the process of obtaining services—or at least with the process of connecting families to the right resources.
The other way is to contact your school district directly to get an evaluation. Even if your child attends a private preschool, the district might agree to evaluate her for special education (or pay for a private evaluation).
The evaluation helps the district see if your child qualifies for free speech therapy or other services. As part of this process, a speech-language pathologist would look at your daughter’s overall communication skills, speak with you about her needs and consider whether her needs would negatively impact her learning.
If your daughter qualifies for services, then you most likely have some choices to make. If she goes to a private preschool, you may want to consider switching to a public school. (Some public elementary schools have preschool programs for children who qualify for special education.) If you make this switch, then you’d be part of a team that develops an Individualized Education Program (IEP) to outline the services your child receives at the public school.
If your child attends a private preschool and you decide to keep her there, she may receive some free services. But she would likely need to travel to the public school to receive the services. And she would likely receive fewer special services in a private school than she would if she attended a public school.
As you’re thinking about your options, you may want to read about “free and appropriate public education” or FAPE. Federal law requires public schools to provide FAPE to kids who qualify for special education. Because of FAPE, public schools must provide therapies and any other services deemed necessary by the IEP team. Learning more about your child’s rights can help you advocate for the support she needs to succeed in preschool and beyond.