Having Your Young Child Evaluated Through Early Intervention
As I discussed in my last article, when parents begin to have questions about their young child’s development, they can feel overwhelmed and confused. Parents may wonder where to turn and who to get help from. Finding support from a pediatrician, friends, family, or professionals who knows the “system” can make all the difference. When your child is 0-3 years of age the “system” is the Early Intervention Program (EIP). After you have contacted EI, having a sense of what the next steps look like, can bring families a great deal of comfort. In this article, we’ll discuss what the evaluation process looks like and the rights afforded to parents and families. Please remember that details can vary by state, county, and child.
When a child has special needs, parents and family members should be involved from the start of intervention. This begins with the evaluation process. I encourage families to consider the initial evaluation as an opportunity to learn more about their child’s special needs. That being said, there is no way around that fact that it can also be stressful. Alleviating anxiety and building a positive relationship with a family can and should be central to the agency and professionals conducting a child’s evaluation. One of the easiest ways to do this is to set up the evaluation to take place where and when a child is most comfortable. Parents and caregivers should inform the evaluating therapist about their family’s unique culture, strengths, and challenges. Some parents feel that their child will work better if they are not in the room, while others may feel that their child will do best if they are actively involved in the assessment. Generally, children are evaluated in 5 areas (physical, cognitive, language and speech, psycho-social, and self-help).
Parents know their child best. Gathering information from parents as expert reporters will help inform the evaluations written by therapists for a child’s IFSP meeting. In Early Intervention, an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) meeting is the point at which a child will be granted services for supporting their developmental needs and the needs of their family. Prior to the meeting, parents are given written reports describing their child’s developmental strength and needs. These reports are written by the professionals from multiple disciplines who have conducted a child’s evaluations. Receiving these reports can stop a parent short. While they may finally be coming to terms with the fact that they have begun the EI process, seeing the details can be scary. Parents can and should request that reports are written in a family-friendly manner so that they can understand what they are reading. Sometimes, families may request one integrated report that can be even easier to read.
The IFSP meeting process is usually initiated by a child’s service coordinator. A coordinator is typically assigned after a child has undergone the necessary assessments that determine his or her eligibility for early intervention services. The IFSP meeting is one of the most important times for parents to be active participants in their child’s development. Speak up! Being passive at this point doesn’t help. In the same way that parents had to be the advocate for their child when asking the pediatrician to screen for specific concerns, here too a parent must speak for their child. The discussion at the IFSP meeting should include the report about the child’s current levels of development across the five domains.
During the IFSP meeting, the term “individualized” is key and the plan should reflect the specific needs and goals for a child, as well as the family’s needs in relation to that child. Families are equal members of the evaluation team, and the IFSP should, in particular, represent the parents’ goals. Essential to a successful Individualized Family Service Plan is a parent’s full understanding of the options for their child. Services should meet a child and family needs and fit within family routines. This is another time for parents to let professionals know what will and will not work for their family. Certainly, a level of flexibility makes for creating a schedule of therapies that much easier. Before you leave the IFSP meeting you should have a statement of the early intervention services and assistive technology your child will receive, dates for beginning services and expected length of services, and the name of your service coordinator.
Finally, the IFSP meeting should inform you of the steps you will take if your child continues services during the preschool years. This is also the contact point for families new to the process of obtaining services for their children (age 3-5) with special needs. The evaluation process for children 3-5 is similar to that which we covered for Early Intervention, but results in a document called an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). For more specific information about your states preschool services for children with special needs, try an internet search including your state’s name and the words “preschool special education.”
It is my hope that this article leaves you feeling more informed about the process of securing special education services for your young child, and empowered to be an active participant in their intervention. The details will change depending on the child, their development and history. Once again, I encourage you to act now if you have concerns about your child’s development. As you go through the process, you might consider looking for a support group with other parents who are currently, or have recently, gone through the early intervention process with their children. Support systems can make a significant, positive impact on parents during this time. Remember that you know your child best. And please rest assured that professionals like me are here to help you, and your child, succeed.
About the author:
Dana Rosenbloom, M.S Ed. – Parent and child educator, special needs and behavior therapist, at Dana’s Kids
- Having Your Young Child Evaluated Through Early Intervention