Early Childhood Learning / Special Education / Ages 2-4

What Happens After Early Intervention?

“Early intervention” programs can be great sources of developmental support for children under three. But what’s next for your 3-year-old once they outgrow that support?

When an infant or toddler under 3 years old is delayed in meeting developmental milestones, they can receive support through their state’s Early Intervention (EI) program. These services are in-home therapies for speech, motor skills, and other areas of development. But EI ends on a child’s 3rd birthday—before most families have enrolled their child in school. What happens then? As a parent or primary caregiver, how can you make sure your child continues to get the support they need?

After a child’s 3rd birthday, developmental and learning support becomes the responsibility of their public school district. But most children aren’t enrolled in public school at 3 years old. So what is a family supposed to do?

  • The first step is requesting an evaluation of your child from your local public school district. Here’s what the Centers for Disease Control advises for families who have a concern about their child’s development: 

“If your child is age 3 or older, call any local public elementary school (even if your child does not go to school there) and say: ‘I have concerns about my child’s development and I would like to have my child evaluated through the school system for preschool special education services.’ If the person who answers is unfamiliar with preschool special education, ask to speak with the school or district’s special education director.”

  • After the evaluation, you will be asked to attend an eligibility meeting for special education services. At this meeting, you’ll learn more about the outcomes of the evaluation and your school district’s opinion on your child’s special education eligibility. You might be offered an Individual Education Plan (IEP) for your child, or you might be told that the school does not believe your child qualifies for an IEP.
  • If your child is found eligible for special education services, you’ll meet with a team to discuss what support services they need. All of those services will be explained in your child’s IEP.
  • Once your child has an IEP in place, the school district will recommend a preschool placement. This will be either in a general education classroom with in-school support, or in a self-contained special education classroom.
  • If your child isn’t found eligible for special education, they may be eligible for a 504 plan or other in-school support—but they won’t be offered a seat in a special education preschool program. If your child isn’t offered a preschool seat through your district’s special education program, they may refer you to Head Start centers or other local preschools. A 504 plan would cover accommodations for other types of disabilities that don’t qualify your child for special education.

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