Monday, May 17, 2010

Services and Transitions for Young Children

Services for infants and young children who exhibit delays or difficulties with learning or development are among the most effective -- and cost effective -- interventions that can be provided to any age group. Early diagnosis and treatment can have an enormous impact on young children and can resolve or minimize a variety of physical and developmental obstacles to school success in years to come. For instance, the American Academy of Pediatrics notes that children with hearing impairments "will have the best chance for normal language development if any hearing loss is discovered and treatment begins by the age of 6 months—and the earlier, the better." This is why hospitals routinely test the hearing of newborns before they are discharged after birth.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the federal law governing educational services to children with disabilities, has a separate section which provides for “Early Intervention Services” for infants and toddlers under 3 years of age. This “Part C” does not require that a child have a disability, which is a basic part of eligibility for school age children. Instead, it looks at whether the child has, or is at risk of having, a developmental delay. An excellent guide to Early Intervention Services is available from the New York City organization Advocates for Children. 

Early intervention services come to an end once a child turns 3, and he or she is then covered by the same section of the IDEA that deals with students in elementary and high schools, although services for these younger students are also available for children who are experiencing developmental delays, in addition to those with specific categories of disability. These Preschool Special Education Services can differ from those offered under Early Intervention -- generally being less, rather than more extensive. Part of this is due to the funding for each of these programs; the more money available, the richer the services offered, although in these days of governmental budget cuts, services at all levels are under financial pressure. 

There is still another transition for children when they turn 5, this time from the Preschool Special Education Services to regular Special Education. At this level developmental delays are no longer a basis for eligibility; a child will need to have a defined disability and require special education because of such disability in order to obtain services under the IDEA. 

The most important thing parents need to know about obtaining services for young children, according to a mother who is in the process of transitioning her son from Early Intervention to Preschool Services, is to "trust your gut. If you think your child has a delay or other problem speak to your pediatrician and arrange to have your child tested." These evaluations are done at no cost to families and the earlier a problem is diagnosed, the early interventions to help resolve it can begin.

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