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.
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.