The first three years of life is a time of huge growth for kids. They go from being infants who can’t get around or communicate to being amazing toddlers who can walk, run, and express thoughts and emotions. That’s a lot of development in three years.
Of course, it doesn’t happen all at once. There are milestones along the way. If your child isn’t meeting many of those milestones as expected, your health clinic or childcare provider may suggest taking a closer look at your child’s skills.
That process is called an early intervention evaluation. The goal is to see if your child needs some help to make progress in life skills, like talking, crawling, or learning.
Each state handles things slightly differently. But in all states, this evaluation is called an initial assessment or an eligibility assessment. Here’s a look at the process and what to expect during an early intervention evaluation.
Step 1: The Informational Meeting
When your child is referred to early intervention, your family will be assigned a service coordinator. Service coordinators may also be referred to as case managers. They help walk you through the process and answer your questions along the way.
The service coordinator will schedule an intake meeting. It’s a time to meet you and your child and to talk to you about why your child was referred for early intervention. In some cases, the service coordinator will do a short screening of your child’s developmental skills.
Depending on which state you live in, this screening may be enough to determine if your child is eligible for early intervention. Many states, though, need more in-depth assessments to find what type of support will be most helpful for you and your child.
Your child can’t be evaluated without your permission. You’ll be asked to sign a written consent form before any testing. Then, your service coordinator will help you figure out details about where and when this will take place and who (other than you and your child) should be there.
Who will evaluate your child? Two or more people evaluate your child. This team is used to working with infants and toddlers. They know about the important areas of development. That includes language, social skills, hearing, and vision.
Most often, they’ll try to find a time to come to your home or the place your child spends most of the day. That helps them see what your child’s skills look like in everyday life.
The team includes someone who can look at overall development (known as a developmental therapist). Other specialists may also be part of the team, depending on need. They may include:
A physical therapist to look at your child’s gross motor skills.
An occupational therapist to look at your child’s fine motor skills and sensory processing profile.
A speech therapist to look at your child’s language and communication skills.
A social worker or psychologist to look at behavior concerns. (A social worker can also look at family needs. For example, the need to apply for insurance or sorting out financial help for daycare, food, or other life expenses.)
What happens during the evaluation? The team will talk to you to get more information about your concerns and what your child is and isn’t yet able to do. They’ll also:
Ask questions about your child’s medical history.
Observe your child playing or interacting with family members. (They might ask you if what they’re seeing is typical.)
Do play-based evaluations where the team asks your child to do certain developmental tasks.
Use standardized tests or other methods to learn about your child’s skills.
Step 3: The Eligibility Meeting
After the evaluation, you’ll meet with a team of professionals to review the results. They’ll share how your child did in each area. Be sure to ask questions and be honest if you disagree with any of the findings. The results help determine if your child is eligible for early intervention services.
If your child is eligible, the team will write an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP). It outlines what services and supports you and your child need, and how often they’ll be provided.