Early Intervention is a support system for infants and toddlers, from birth to age two or three, who are not developing as expected or who have a medical condition that could delay normal development. States provide early intervention services to eligible children and families; these services are federally mandated through Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
Although states have varying requirements and ways of implementing early intervention services, they are usually provided by local entities such as counties or school districts. Parents can call and request that their child be evaluated for service eligibility and such evaluations are performed at no cost to the family. Some preemies may automatically qualify for early intervention services. For example, in Virginia, an infant born at 28 weeks gestation or earlier or who spends more than 30 days in the NICU automatically qualifies for early intervention. Children may also qualify based on medical diagnosis, assistive technology needs, or developmental delays.
The evaluation as well as early intervention services are typically provided in the home. Depending on the length of your child’s NICU stay and any developmental concerns, your baby’s neontatologist or pediatrician may recommend screening for early intervention services.
If your child is eligible and you decide to receive early intervention services, your service coordinator will develop an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) for your child that will outline developmental goals for your child and the frequency of services. Early intervention services can include:
- Physical Therapy
- Occupational Therapy
- Speech Therapy
- Family Training
- Respite Services
- Social Work
- Assistive Technology Services (such as leg or foot braces)
- Hearing Services
- Vision Services
It is very common for preemie families to utilize early intervention services. By taking advantage of this opportunity, parents can learn exercises and techniques to help their children strengthen their muscles and reach important developmental milestones such as rolling over, sitting up, crawling, walking, and talking. The sooner you address potential developmental concerns, the easier it is to help your child overcome any challenges. Early intervention services can be flexible; you can add, discontinue, or change the frequency of services depending on your child’s needs and developmental progress.
For programs and services, search your state or county website for “Early Intervention” or ask your child’s pediatrician or NICU for information on your local early intervention services.