Early Intervention is a network of support services provided by the state for children, birth to age three, with special needs. Initiating and understanding Early Intervention (EI) services can feel overwhelming and confusing.
How Do I Initiate Early Intervention?
There are two standard scenarios for initiating EI services.
- You receive a referral directly after birth: If your child is born prematurely, with low birth weight, or with a known disability such as Down Syndrome it’s likely you will leave the hospital with a referral to begin the Early Intervention process.
- You, or your pediatrician, notice a delay: For parents of children with autism, there comes a point in your child’s development when you notice something is “off.” Your first instinct will likely be to contact your child’s medical provider, and you should. But you should also know that you do not need a referral to initiate EI services.
You know your child better than anyone else. Often, the little quirks that seem not quite right to you may be difficult to observe in a short visit to the pediatrician. I encourage you to follow your gut and contact your local Early Intervention company as soon as you have concerns.
In both cases, once you have decided you’d like your child to be evaluated you can call your local EI company and request an evaluation.
How Does Early Intervention Work?
After you have called to request an evaluation, sometimes referred to as an intake meeting, you will be assigned a service coordinator or case manager. The service coordinator will come to your home, ask you a variety of questions, have you fill out some forms, and arrange for different therapeutic assessments based on your child’s specific needs.
Some of the therapies provided through EI include:
- Developmental therapy
- Occupational therapy
- Physical therapy
- Speech therapy
- Social work
- Medical therapies
After the appropriate therapists conduct their assessments the team will determine if your child qualifies for services.
In the United States, to qualify for services in any area your child must present at least a 30 percent delay in that area. For example, if your child’s gross motor skills are delayed by 10 percent and their speech skills are delayed by 50 percent, your child would qualify for speech therapy but not for physical therapy.
If your child meets this criterion the team will develop an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP).
What’s Included in an Individualized Family Service Plan?
An IFSP is similar to an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for school-aged children. It lays out the terms of your services and your child’s unique goals. The IFSP includes:
- Family information
- Which services will be provided
- Where the services will be received
- How frequently the services will be received
- Individualized goals for each area of need
- Who will pay for services.
- How your child will transition out of EI services
Because young children grow and change quickly, the IFSP is reviewed by the team every six months and updated at least annually. This ensures the team is providing services for your child’s most current needs.
How Much Does Early Intervention Cost?
A few portions of the EI process are free of charge. They are:
- Your service coordinator
- Initial evaluations
- The development of the IFSP
Your family’s income and access to private insurance will determine who pays for the services and how much is paid.. If you have private insurance you will be billed based on a sliding scale fee structure. That means, if you make less, you pay less and if you make more, you pay more.
Once your therapies begin, payment begins. You’ll be told ahead of time who will pay and how much will be owed. It’s important to note a child can’t be denied services based on your family’s inability to pay.
What Happens When My Child Turns Three?
Early Intervention services are available in the United States from birth to age three (in Europe services are available through age five or six). As your child approaches their third birthday their EI team will develop a plan to transition them out of EI. This plan may include guidance for continuing therapy privately, or it may help your child gain access to services provided through your local school district.
If you don’t notice delays in your child until age three you can reach out to your school district on your own. Schools are required to offer assessments and services to children who meet eligibility requirements.
Early Intervention is a key factor in continuous long-term success for children with autism. Don’t hesitate to take advantage of these important services.Tell Me More!
Find out more about common early childhood interventions for children with autism. Check out my video Is Applied Behavior Analysis Right for Your Autism Game Plan?
Be gentle with yourself. You’re doing a great job.
I hope this information has been helpful to you as part of creating Your Autism Game Plan.
Do you have a topic you’d like to learn more about? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org