Young children may be eligible for services under Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) under early intervention services (Part C) as soon as the child turns three years of age. Early intervention is provided under this federal mandate for any preschooler with a disability from age three to age five. Services for school-age children, grades K through 12, are considered under Part B of IDEA.
Children may be identified as needed special services through the process of going to the pediatrician for well-baby and well-child checkups. A referral to a specialist may be made if there is a question or concern about the child's development. Local child find offices are another means of identifying very young children. In keeping with IDEA, each state must have a comprehensive system to identify, locate and evaluate children with disabilities. Parents, caregivers or regular preschool staff members may also refer a child for an evaluation.
There are several ways that children may begin receiving services through the public school district. Those children who are already receiving early intervention services (birth to three years of age) may begin special education preschool services through a transition process from early intervention to public special education. They may also receive special education preschool services if they are two years of age and will turn three during the school year through the discretion of the state in which they live. Other children are first identified and found to be eligible between the ages of two and five years of age, and may begin receiving services as a preschooler with a disability.
The process for providing special education services to a preschooler with a disability is very similar to the process of providing special education services to a school-age child. The child must be found eligible after a multi-factored evaluation in at least one of the following areas: adaptive behavior, cognition, communication, hearing, vision, sensory/motor functioning, social-emotional functioning and behavioral functioning. After the assessments are complete, the team determines if the child meets the requirements as a preschooler with a disability. If so, an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is written and services in the necessary need areas are provided at no cost to the parents.
Identifying a child with a disability as soon as possible permits the child to begin receiving necessary services in a timelier manner. This early intervention, before the child starts kindergarten, can create a more positive prognosis for the child and assist them to develop in a more typical manner.