Early Intervention

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
  • Nutrition
  • Social Work
  • Assistive Technology Services (such as leg or foot braces)
  • Hearing Services
  • Vision Services
Families may be required to pay for early intervention services (but not the initial screening and evaluation) based on a sliding scale and their ability to pay.  Private health insurance and Medicaid can also be used to pay for 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.

Private Therapy

Private therapy or the medical model of therapy differs from the early intervention model as it typically occurs in clinics, hospitals, and medical settings. The therapist usually looks at underlying medical conditions and evaluates the whole child and his or her functioning in everyday life.  The early intervention model focuses on teaching the parents how best to support their child’s development in the setting the child knows best, the home. Private therapy is either covered by insurance, medicaid, or parents have to pay fully out of pocket for expenses. There is no sliding fee scale like Early Intervention and you will need to know what your therapy coverage is with your insurance provider. Also, some insurances may require a physician's referral for services. Finally, many times with Early Intervention children have to demonstrate a certain amount of developmental delay in order to qualify for services. There is no specific delay required with Private therapy. If there is any level of delay, weaknesses, or medical reasons a child can receive services.  Some children may need private therapy and some children may benefit from the early intervention model. There are some children who benefit from both models. You should consult with your child’s therapist as well as your child’s physician to determine the best approach for your child.

Child Find

Child Find identifies and refers children for preschool special education services for ages two or three through age five.  Like early intervention services, Child Find services are federally mandated through Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Services are usually provided in the home, daycare center, private preschool, or through your local public school at no cost to the parents.  Your child’s Individual Education Plan team, which includes you, will determine the least restrictive environment for your child and decide where he or she will receive services.  Your child may be eligible to receive services such as speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and vision or hearing services.  The educational model of therapy differs from the medical model as it emphasizes the child’s needs as they relate to the school setting.