Early Intervention (Birth to 5 years old)

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New to Early Intervention (EI)

From Early Intervention Technical Assistance, this online learning portal provides information, resources and a broad range of training initiatives about early intervention (EI). If you’re new to EI we encourage you to browse the “New to EI” information. 

IDEA Part C (Ages 0-3) Early Intervention Programs for Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities
Learn more at IDEA Partnership website on Part C of IDEA

IDEA Part B (Ages 3-5) Preschool Early Intervention
The Preschool section of IDEA 2004 (Part B, Section 619) applies to children ages 3 through 5 if they meet the definition of a child with a disability. Some children in this age group show a developmental delay but because of their young age, cannot yet be identified by category. For more information Preschool Early Intervention and Part B of IDEA visit the IDEA Partnership website on Part B of IDEA

Key Terms to Know in Early Intervention 

Developmental Delay
Early Intervention Services
Infant or Toddler with a Disability
Native Language
Natural Environment
Prior Written Notice (PWN)
Coordination Services

Early intervention is full of terms that people constantly use in writing and in conversation, and it’s important to know what those terms mean. This link reviews key terms and definitions: Parent Center Hub Key Terms 


Early intervention is intended for infants and toddlers who have a developmental delay or disability. Eligibility is determined by evaluating the child (with parents’ consent) to see if the child has a delay in development or a disability. Eligible children can receive early intervention services from birth through the third birthday (and sometimes beyond). Some children are eligible soon after birth due to specific conditions or congenital disabilities; while others become eligible after showing delays in development.   

Eligibility Birth
Children who are diagnosed at birth with a specific condition or who experience significant prematurity, very low birth weight, illness, or surgery soon after being born are likely to be eligible for EI.

Delays in Development
Children who develop more slowly than others, experience set backs, or develop in ways that seem very different from other children may also be eligible for EI. There are five areas in which development may be affected:

  1. Cognitive development
  2. Physical development, including vision and hearing
  3. Communication development
  4. Social or emotional development
  5. Adaptive development

If you are concerned with your child’s development, you may contact your local early intervention provider and ask to have your child evaluated. The evaluation is free. If you’re unsure of how to locate the early intervention program in your community or have other questions:

  1. Contact a Parent Advisor at the PEAL Center
  2. Find the EI provider your county. A list of EI providers by county can be found here
  3. Ask your pediatrician for a referral to the local early intervention system.

Early intervention services provide vital support so that children with developmental needs can thrive and grow.

Evaluation & Assessment

Screening & Evaluation

After you request an evaluation for your child, a Service Coordinator, provided by your community’s early intervention program, will explain the early intervention process and guide you through the next steps.

One of the first things that will happen is that your child will be evaluated by a professional to see if they have a developmental delay or disability. You must provide your written consent before screening and/or evaluation takes place. Screening can be a preliminary step in the evaluation process.

Evaluation starts with an evaluation group made up of qualified individuals who have a range of training and experience in speech and language, physical abilities, hearing and vision, and other important areas of development. Things to expect:

  1. Group members may evaluate your child together or individually
  2. Team will observe your child, ask your child to do things, talk to you and your child, and use other methods to gather information
  3. Share your own observations and/or concerns

The team will discuss with you if your child meets the criteria under IDEA and state policy for having a developmental delay, a diagnosed physical or mental condition, or being at risk for having a substantial delay, if so, your child is generally found to be eligible for services.

If about  your child is found eligible for services then it’s time to write the Individualized Family Service Plan, or IFSP.

For more detailed information about the screening and evaluation process check out this resource: ECTA Center Screening, Evaluation, and Assessment

A Family’s Guide to Evaluation and Re-evaluation

This five-part series will help you understand federal and state special education laws, evaluation and reevaluation forms, and other important educational language in these reports. Included on these pages are downloadable PDFs of the annotated forms. Check out the series here, and let us know what you think! 

Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP)

An IFSP is a very important document that outlines the Early Intervention services that your child and family will receive.  The IFSP is developed by your service team, which includes the parent(s) or guardian. Parents/guardians are a major contributor to the IFSP development because the family is a child’s greatest resource.

Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) – with Annotations

This document includes notes and explanations of what the team should include in each section of the IFSP.  It can be very helpful in preparing for an IFSP meeting or reviewing a proposed IFSP.  

Download this document for your IFSP meetings

What’s Included in an IFSP?

  1. Your child’s present physical, cognitive, communication, social/emotional, and adaptive development levels and needs
  2. Family information, including resources, priorities, and concerns, as parents, and other family members closely involved with the child
  3. Major results expected to be achieved for your child and family
  4. Specific services your child will receive (You must give written consent for each service to be provided.)
  5. Where the services will be provided (e.g., home, community, school)
  6. The number of sessions or days your child will receive each service, and how long each session will last
  7. Who will pay for the services
  8. Name of service coordinator overseeing the implementation of the IFSP
  9. Steps to be taken to support your child’s transition out of early intervention and into another program when the time comes

What Happens Next?

With your written consent the IFSP is implemented. This means that the services described in the IFSP are provided to your child in the manner described in the IFSP. Two things to remember:

  1. You, as parents/guardians, have the right to decline any early intervention services without jeopardizing your child’s eligibility for other early intervention services. You may also revoke consent for one or more services at any time.
  2. You, as parents/guardians, are part of the review and revision process, which happens every six months and is updated at least one a year. Together, parents/guardians and the team, look at your child’s progress and decide how or if the IFSP needs to be changed.

Transitioning from EI to School Age Programs 

When children in preschool reach the age of 5 or 6, they will move on to a school age program.  During this transition, it is important for families to have as much information as possible about the process.  Planning starts the year before your child is old enough to enroll in kindergarten or first grade.  If your child is approaching this milestone please review this detailed resource:  The Transition Process From Early Intervention To School-Age Programs: Guidelines to Support Parents