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Fall 2009 Vol. 17. No. 2 Focus on A Good Start, 0 to 5

Eye on special education

Q & A: How young children with disabilities can access free Early Intervention services

By Kate Nelson on Oct 2, 2009 09:24 AM

Is my child eligible for Early Intervention services?

Children under age three (“infants and toddlers”) are entitled to Early Intervention services if they have a “developmental delay” in one or more of these areas: cognitive (thinking), communication, physical (including vision and hearing), social/emotional, or self-care, or if they have a physical or mental condition that has a high probability of resulting in a developmental delay.

Children over three but below the age for first grade (“preschoolers”) are eligible for Early Intervention if they have a developmental delay and need specialized instruction, or if they have a disability that would qualify them for special education if they were school age.

I live in Philadelphia. How do I get Early Intervention services?

If your child is under three, contact ChildLink’s intake office at 215-731-2110 to get your child tested. If the child is found eligible, an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) meeting will be scheduled to decide which services he or she needs. ChildLink has 45 calendar days to evaluate the child and complete the IFSP.

If your child is over three, call 215-222-8054 to get your child tested by Elwyn’s SEEDS (Special Education for Early Developmental Success) program. Elwyn is a private agency that has a contract with the state. Elwyn has 60 calendar days from the time the parents sign a Permission to Evaluate form to evaluate the child and give the parents a written report and 30 calendar days to meet with the parents to develop an IEP (Individualized Education Program). Services must start within 14 calendar days of the completion of the IEP.

Where are Early Intervention services provided?

Infants and toddlers with disabilities must receive services in the most natural environment appropriate to their needs – that is, where the youngster would be spending the day if he or she did not have a developmental delay. Preschoolers must be educated in the “least restrictive environment.”

The right setting could be the child’s home, child care, or a public or private pre-kindergarten program or Head Start program. This does not necessarily mean that a public agency must cover the full cost of a regular child care program. Rather, it means that the child cannot be required to attend a separate program simply because that is more convenient for the public agency.

How many hours and days of Early Intervention services will my child receive?

IFSP or IEP Teams, which include the parent, must decide how many hours and days of programming are needed in order for the child to make reasonable progress. If the parent disagrees with the Team’s decision, she can ask for “mediation” or a “hearing” (see below for ELC’s Web site, where you can get more information about these procedures).

Are other services available?

Young children have the same right to “related services” (such as therapies) as children of school age. The IFSP or IEP must list these services, including the type and amount of service that is needed (for example, physical therapy, 2x/week, 30 minute sessions). An Early Intervention provider cannot refuse to provide necessary services because they are too costly or because of a shortage of service providers. 

About the Author

Prepared by the Education Law Center. For more information, visit their Web site at (scroll down to “Early Intervention: Children With Disabilities Birth to School Age”), or call the Disability Rights Network at 800-692-7443.

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