What Is Early Intervention?
Children grow and develop at their own rate. Although some children walk and talk early, others may be delayed in learning certain skills. If you have any concerns about your child’s development, the earlier you seek help, the better.
Early intervention is for children ages birth to 3 and their families. Early intervention is available in every state under federal law. In some states, early intervention programs may continue until a child is age 5.
Families and professionals, including audiologists and speech-language pathologists, are part of an early intervention team. They help children develop skills such as
- cognitive skills (thinking, learning, problem-solving);
- communication skills (gesturing, talking, listening, understanding);
- physical and sensory skills (crawling, walking, climbing, seeing, hearing);
- social–emotional skills (playing, understanding feelings, making friends); and
- adaptive or self-help skills (eating, bathing, dressing).
Early intervention is different for each child and family depending on the child’s needs and the family’s priorities. The most important step is to start early.
How Can I Get Early Intervention Services for My Child?
Health care providers, parents, child care staff, teachers, and social service workers are just some of the people who can refer an infant or toddler for early intervention.
If you are concerned about your child’s development, you may contact your local early intervention program directly to ask for an evaluation. Families do not have to wait for a referral from professionals.
You can find your community’s early intervention office by
- asking your child’s pediatrician, child care provider, or teacher for a referral;
- calling your state department of health or education;
- reaching out to the Parent Training and Information Center in your state;
- contacting the pediatrics department of a local hospital; or
- visiting the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center’s state-by-state contacts page.
What Happens After My Child Is Referred for Early Intervention?
After your child is referred to your local early intervention program, a service coordinator will meet with you and your child to gather information and explain next steps. They will evaluate your child’s skills to see if your child and family are eligible for services. They will ask you for written consent before they begin.
If your child is eligible for services, a more in-depth assessment (i.e., tests, observations, interviews) will be completed. This assessment determines how early intervention can help your child and family.
Next, the early intervention team writes an Individualized Family Service Plan. This plan includes goals, services, and supports for your child and family. You are part of the team, and you help decide what is included in the plan.
Early intervention services must be in the language(s) your child and your family use. If necessary, an interpreter will work with you and the early intervention providers.
What Happens When My Child Turns 3?
A few months before your child’s third birthday, you and the early intervention team will develop a transition plan to meet the needs of your child and family. Part of this plan involves deciding if your child needs services after age 3.
Some states will extend early intervention services beyond your child’s third birthday if needed. Children older than 3 may be eligible for services from the local school district.
What If My Child Is Not Eligible for Early Intervention Services?
If your child does not qualify for services, but you feel they still need help, let the team know right away. You can request another evaluation at that time or in the future. You can also seek services outside of the early intervention program. These services are usually billed to you or your insurance.
If your child is already 3, you can still get help through your local school district. Each school district has a program called Child Find that can help.
A lot happens in the first few years of life. For children who are not where they need to be with development, getting help early can make a big difference.
See these ASHA resources for more information about typical development and early signs of speech, language, and hearing disorders:
You can also browse ASHA's Online Store for brochures and booklets related to infants and toddlers.