Early intervention is a team-based service to help babies and young children, from birth to age 3, who have trouble with skills like walking and talking. Parents and caregivers of children are always part of that team. Speech-language pathologists, or SLPs, and audiologists may also be part of the team. The most important step is to start as soon as possible.
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Some children might have trouble learning certain skills like walking and talking. If you see your child having trouble with communicating, hearing, walking, or reaching many milestones, ask for help as soon as you can.
Early intervention services are for children ages birth to 3 and their families. Early intervention services are available in every state under federal law. In some states, early intervention may continue until a child is age 5. Early intervention is different for each child and family depending on the child’s needs and the family’s priorities.
Families and professionals, including audiologists and SLPs, are part of an early intervention team. They help children develop skills such as these:
Health care providers, parents, childcare staff, teachers, and social workers are just some of the people who can refer an infant or toddler for early intervention.
Families do not have to wait for a referral from professionals. If you are worried about your child’s development, you may contact your local early intervention program to ask for an evaluation.
You can find the contact information to your community’s early intervention office by
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 the next steps. They will look at your child’s skills to see if your child is eligible for services. They will ask you for written consent before they begin.
If your child is eligible for services, then a more in-depth assessment—like tests, observations, and 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, also called an IFSP. This plan includes goals, services, and supports for you and your child. 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) you and your child use. If you need an interpreter, the team can set one up to work with you, your child, and the rest of the team.
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 you and your child. Part of this plan is to decide if your child will need services after they turn 3.
Some states may allow early intervention services past your child’s third birthday, but not all states do this. Children older than 3 may also be able to get services from the local school district.
What if you are told that your child is not eligible for services, but you think they still need help? Let the team know right away! Here are some actions you can take:
To find an audiologist or SLP near you, visit ProFind.
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. Getting help as soon as possible for children who need it can make a big difference.
You can also browse ASHA's Online Store for brochures and booklets related to infants and toddlers.