Maybe you can tell that your child isn’t developing at a pace that’s typical. Or perhaps you’re concerned, but not quite sure. It’s normal to be uncertain—the range of what’s typical is pretty broad. If you have concerns or questions, don’t wait to take action.
An early intervention evaluation can identify developmental delays or the risk of them. That may put your mind at ease. An evaluation can also determine if your child is eligible for early intervention services. Early intervention can put her on a path to getting the help she needs.
Talk to your child’s doctor.
If you have concerns about your child, talk with your child’s pediatrician. Come prepared with a specific list of concerns and questions. Describe developmental milestones your child hasn’t yet reached.
The doctor might refer you to a specialist for an in-depth evaluation:
- Developmental pediatricians have special training in child development.
- Child or pediatric neurologists specialize in treating delayed speech, ADHD, delays in motor skills and other issues involving nervous system (including the spine, brain and nerves).
- Child psychologists and child psychiatrists have expert knowledge about the human mind. Psychiatrists have a medical degree, which means they can prescribe medicine. Psychologists have a doctorate but no medical degree.
Depending on the results of the evaluation, the specialist may then refer your child for specific services. This might include speech or physical therapy.
You can also ask the pediatrician or pediatrics branch of a local hospital how to find early intervention services in your area.
Do you need a referral for an early intervention evaluation?
You don’t have to wait for a referral. You can contact your state’s public early childhood system for a free evaluation. The office’s contact information is usually available on your state’s website.
If your state doesn’t provide public preschool, you may contact the public school your child will attend for kindergarten and request information. Each school district is required to find and evaluate all children who need special services.
Who you contact for an early intervention evaluation depends upon your child’s age.
- If your child is younger than age 3, you generally want to contact the state’s early intervention services office. You can find your state’s office here. A child in this age range receives a free evaluation under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
- If your child is age 3 or older, contact your local public school system. Do this even if your child is not old enough for kindergarten or not enrolled in a public school. A child in this age range also receives a free evaluation under IDEA.
Before an evaluation can take place, you must first give your written consent.
Is an evaluation always required to receive early intervention?
An evaluation isn’t always required. Some children can receive early intervention services without an evaluation. These are children who have a physical or mental disability that’s likely to result in developmental delay. This includes children with:
- Certain genetic disorders
- Severe attachment disorders
- Fetal alcohol syndrome
Is it too late to request an early intervention evaluation?
Even if your child is older than 3 and hasn’t yet had the benefit of early intervention, it’s not too late. As with a younger child, the first step is an evaluation. You can request an evaluation, and so can a school professional.
The evaluation will determine whether your child is entitled to special education or related services. If you disagree with the results, you can take your child for an independent educational evaluation (IEE). The school system might pay for this. Find out more about who pays for early intervention services.
In most cases, an evaluation is the first step to getting early intervention services. If you’re concerned, there’s no reason to wait for a referral. You can be the one to take this step to make sure your child makes the most progress she can.