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Early Intervention (Part C of IDEA)
What is Early Intervention? l Natural Environments l Part C of IDEA
Articles l Caselaw l Publications l  Resources l Organizations

At Wrightslaw, we receive many questions from parents, teachers, therapists, and health care providers about early intervention services for children. What is early intervention? What does it include? Does my child qualify? What should I do if I am not happy with evaluations, programs or services? What is Part C? Is it the same as Part B but for younger children? Is an IFSP different from an IEP? These are just a few of the questions people ask.

If you are a parent, you need to educate yourself about your child's disability or delay, effective educational methods, different types of therapies and medical treatments, and how to present your child's problems and needs to school staff so they want to help.

On this page, you will find many resources to help you along the way. Your path to learning starts here..

New! US DOE OSERS Dear Colleague Letter, 01/09/17 Preschool LRE. Guidance about the least restrictive environment (LRE) requirements in section 612(a)(5) of IDEA that a fully applicable to the placement of preschool children with disabilities. This DCL supersedes the 2012 OSEP DCL and includes additional information on the reporting of educational environments data for preschool children with disabilities and the use of IDEA Part B funds to provide special education and related services to preschool children with disabilities.

US DOE Policy Statement, 09/14/15 on Inclusion of Children with Disabilities in Early Childhood Programs. Clarifies US DOE position that all young children with disabilities should have access to inclusive high-quality early childhood programs, where they are provided with individualized and appropriate support in meeting high expectations.

OSEP Dear Colleague Letter, 07/06/15, addresses concerns about speech-language services for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), clarifying requirements of the IDEA related to the provision of services for children with disabilities, including children with ASD [including infants and toddlers in Part C with IFSPs]. Clarification of OSEP's concern that SLPs and other appropriate profesionals may not be included in evaluation and eligibility determinations.

What is Early Intervention?

Early intervention is the process of providing services, education and support to young children who are deemed to have an established condition, those who are evaluated and deemed to have a diagnosed physical or mental condition (with a high probability of resulting in a developmental delay), an existing delay or a child who is *at-risk of developing a delay or special need that may affect their development or impede their education. The purpose of early intervention is to lessen the effects of the disability or delay. Services are designed to identify and meet a child's needs in five developmental areas, including: physical development, cognitive development, communication, social or emotional development, and adaptive development.

Early intervention programs and services may occur in a variety of settings, with a heavy emphasis on natural environments. These programs and/or services are proven to be most effective when started as soon as the delay or disability is identified.

Child Find information and resources from Wrightslaw.

Child Find is a component of IDEA that requires states to identify, locate, and evaluate all children with disabilities, aged birth to 21, who are in need of early intervention or special education services. Child Find in Private Schools.

OSEP Policy Documents Regarding Child Find.

*The at-risk category depends on the state's eligibility determination process and whether it includes children who are at-risk. States are given the discretion of including children at-risk in their state plans.

Natural Environments

Part C of IDEA requires "to the maximum extent appropriate to the needs of the child, early intervention services must be provided in natural environments, including the home and community settings in which children without disabilities participate." (34 CFR §303.12(b))

By definition, natural environments mean "settings that are natural or normal for the child's age peers who have no disabilities." (34 CFR §303.18)

The exception to the rule reads "the provision of early intervention services for any infant or toddler with a disability occurs in a setting other than a natural environment that is most appropriate, as determined by the parent and the individualized family service plan team, only when early intervention cannot be achieved satisfactorily for the infant or toddler in a natural environment."

The provision of early intervention services taking place in natural environments is not just a guiding principle or suggestion, it is a legal requirement.

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Part C of IDEA: The Early Intervention Program for Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities

Congress established the Part C (Early Intervention) program in 1986 in recognition of "an urgent and substantial need" to:

  • enhance the development of infants and toddlers with disabilities;
  • reduce educational costs by minimizing the need for special education through early intervention;
  • minimize the likelihood of institutionalization, and maximize independent living; and,
  • enhance the capacity of families to meet their child's needs.

The Program for Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities (Part C of IDEA) is a federal grant program that assists states in operating a comprehensive statewide program of early intervention services for infants and toddlers with disabilities, ages birth through age 2 years, and their families. In order for a state to participate in the program it must assure that early intervention will be available to every eligible child and its family. Also, the governor must designate a lead agency to receive the grant and administer the program, and appoint an Interagency Coordinating Council (ICC), including parents of young children with disabilities, to advise and assist the lead agency. Currently, all states and eligible territories are participating in the Part C program. Annual funding to each state is based upon census figures of the number of children, birth through 2, in the general population.

In 2004, President Bush signed legislation reauthorizing IDEA. The current IDEA 2004 Statute (P.L. 108-446) for Part C (PDF) contain many requirements states have to meet, including specifying the minimum components of comprehensive statewide early intervention system. States have some discretion in setting the criteria for child eligibility, including whether or not to serve at risk children. As a result, definitions of eligibility differ significantly from state to state. States also differ concerning which state agency has been designated "lead agency" for the Part C program. In fact, statewide early intervention systems differ in many ways from state to state. (source)

Update: On September 28, 2011, the IDEA 2004 Part C Final Regulations governing the Early Intervention Program for Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities were published in the Federal Register. These regulations are effective on October 28, 2011. Regulations & Analysis of Comments and Changes (Commentary) were published in the Federal Register, Vol. 76, No. 188, September 28, 2011, p. 60140. PDF Format

Part C (Birth - 2 years old) IDEA 2004: Building the Legacy. U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs’ (OSEP’s) Part C of the IDEA website to provide a "one-stop shop" for resources related to Part C.

Building the Legacy of our Youngest Children with Disabilities. Training Guide on Part C from the Center for Parent Information and Resources (CPIR), the legacy resource for NICHCY.

Evaluation and Assessments

Under IDEA, evaluation and assessments are to be provided at no cost to the parent. Evaluation refers to the process used by the multidisciplinary team (qualified people with training and experience in the areas of speech and language skills, physical abilities, hearing and vision, and other important areas of development) to find out whether or not your child is eligible for early intervention services. As part of the evaluation, the multidisciplinary team will observe, interact, and use other tools or methods to gather information on your child. These procedures will help the team find out how your child functions. The team will then meet with you to discuss whether the findings mean that your child is eligible for services under Part C.

Eligibility for Part C

Part C eligibility is determined by each state's definition of developmental delay and whether it includes children at risk for disabilities in the eligibility formula. An important part of the evaluation process for infants and toddlers (ages 0 - 36 months) includes informed clinical opinion of professionals experienced with the development of very young children. States have been given a lot of discretion for determining eligibility for entry into their programs. If your child is determined to be eligible, the next step is to create an IFSP.

The Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP)

An Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) documents and guides the early intervention process for children with disabilities and their families. The IFSP is the vehicle through which effective early intervention is implemented in accordance with Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). It contains information about the services necessary to facilitate a child's development and enhance the family's capacity to facilitate the child's development. Through the IFSP process, family members and service providers work as a team to plan, implement, and evaluate services specific to the family's concerns, priorities, and available resources. (source) A service coordinator then helps the family by coordinating the services outlined in the IFSP. Download the Model IFSP Form published by the U.S. Department of Education.

Writing the IFSP. From the Center for Parent Information and Resources (CPIR), the legacy resource for NICHCY.

The State Interagency Coordinating Council (SICC)

Each state has a State Interagency Coordinating Council (SICC). According to IDEA, the function of the ICC is to "advise and assist the lead agency in the performance of the responsibilities set forth in Section 635(a)(10) of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, particularly the identification of the sources of fiscal and other support for services for early intervention programs, assignment of financial responsibility to the appropriate agency, and the promotion of the interagency agreements; advise and assist the lead agency in the preparation of applications and amendments thereto; advise and assist the State educational agency regarding the transition of toddlers with disabilities to preschool and other appropriate services; and, prepare and submit to the Governor and to the Federal Secretary of Education on the status of early intervention programs for infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families operated within the State."

Transitioning out of Part C and into Part B (Special Education)

Your team (including parents) should start preparing the child for transition (if applicable) into Part B services around the age of 30-32 months (and no less than 3 months prior to the child's 3rd birthday). All children will not be eligible to enter into preschool special education programs. A transition planning meeting will be held to discuss next steps, particularly, how to prepare your child for the transition out of Part C. An exit IEP is held which determines the services that your child will receive after the transition. The following resources will help you understand this process:

Foundations of Transition for Young Children - Effective Transition Practices in Early

Part C: The Transition Process and Lead Agency Notification. This Training Module 8 takes a detailed look at what the Part C regulations require in terms of the transition planning and activities that must occur from the Center for Parent Information and Resources (CPIR), the legacy resource for NICHCY.

Part C: Development of the Transition Plan. This Training Module 9 focuses on the development of a transition plan for the exiting toddler from the Center for Parent Information and Resources (CPIR), the legacy resource for NICHCY.

Transition to Preschool. From the Center for Parent Information and Resources (CPIR), the legacy resource for NICHCY (closing September 2014).

Transition of Young Children in Early Childhood Programs from CONNECT: The Center to Mobilize Early Childhood Knowledge from the Child Development Institute at UNC. This training module is about transition from Part C of IDEA (infants and toddlers- birth to three) to Part B (young children - three to six) programs.

Early Transitions for Children and Families: Transitions from Infant/Toddler Services to Preschool Education. This ERIC Digest covers transition issues such as achieving successful transitions, what influences the process, strategies and processes.

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Parent Participation in Early Intervention. Resources from the legacy resource for NICHCY (closing September 2014) that address parent involvement, including the parents’ right to be involved in decision making regarding their child and the early intervention services he or she receives.  There are also resources to help early intervention systems promote the active involvement of families at either the organizational or individual levels.

Service Coordination Under Part C. According to 34 CFR 303.23 of IDEA, "the activities carried out by a service coordinator to assist and enable a child eligible under this part and the child's family to receive the rights, procedural safeguards, and services that are authorized to be provided under the State's early intervention program." This document from the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center is all about service coordination.

What's the Difference Between an IEP and an IFSP? PACER Fact Sheet with side-by-side comparison of an IEP and an IFSP.

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For cases related to special education, please visit the Law Library. More information on this topic coming soon.

Recommended Publications

Frameworks for Response to Intervention in Early Childhood developed by the Division of Early Childhood of the Council for Exceptional Children, the National Association for the Education of Young Children, and the National Head Start Association.

Transitioning to Kindergarten: A Toolkit for Early Childhood Educators. Too often, preparation for kindergarten does not begin until a month or two just before kindergarten begins. However, transition to kindergarten is a process that is most successful when it is carefully planned out over the entire pre-kindergarten year.

A Child Becomes A Reader: Birth Through Preschool. This free publication from the U.S Department of Education includes ideas about how parents can help their child become a reader when they talk, play, and read together. It is specifically written for parents with children of preschool age or younger.

Learn the Signs. Act Early. On this website, you can view or download the various materials for the "Learn the Signs. Act Early." Campaign designed for parents and health care professionals.

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Identifying Children who Need Early Intervention or Special Ed Services. The American Academy of Pediatrics Report, December 2015, highlighting the role pediatricians have in identifying children who need early intervention (EI) or special education services. Download PDF

Early Learning: Kindergarten Online Database. This database provides state policy information as of December 2012 on the 50 states and the District of Columbia, including: whether a Child Must Attend Kindergarten, Kindergarten Entrance Age, Compulsory School Age, Kindergarten Readiness Assessments, Curriculum, Minimum Required Days/Hours for Kindergarten, Kindergarten Standards - General Information and Teacher/Student Ratios.

Early Intervention for Children with Complex Communication Needs. This website provides guidelines for early intervention to maximize the language and communication development of young children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome, and Multiple Disabilities. You'll find (1) Step-by-step guidelines for early intervention to build language and communication skills
and (2) Photographs and videotaped examples of intervention with young children with special needs.

Evidence-based Practices. Evidence-based practice in the field of early childhood is the process that pulls together the best available research, knowledge from professional experts, and data and input from children and their caregivers, to identify and provide services, evaluated and proven to achieve positive outcomes for children and families.

National Center for Learning Disabilities Literacy Program: Get Ready to Read! Get Ready to Read! is an early literacy program designed to help parents, early educators and child care professionals ensure that young children are equipped with the fundamental skills necessary for learning to read. The goal of Get Ready to Read! is to screen four-year-olds for early literacy skills before they enter kindergarten and provide skill-strengthening activities to ensure reading success.

The Center for Best Practices in Early Childhood, Western Illinois University. This site provides information and resources on early intervention and special education practices.

NICHCY: Special Education Services for Preschoolers with Disabilities. From the Center for Parent Information and Resources (CPIR), the legacy resource for NICHCY (closing September 2014).

Bridges4Kids Disability-specific Topic Pages. From Early Childhood Disorders to Learning Disabilities, Bridges4Kids provides topic pages on 85 different disorders, disabilities and diseases. Each page contains information on Education & Classroom Accommodations, National Resources & Websites, Articles, Medical Information, and more.

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Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center (ECTA). Funded by the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) To provide high quality technical assistance to state Part C and Section 619 program coordinators.

U.S. Department of Education's, Early Intervention Programs for Infants and Toddlers official website.

U.S. Department of Education's, Office of Early Learning.

U.S. Department of Education's, Early Learning Initiative.

Division for Early Childhood, Council for Exceptional Children.

Early Childhood Education. An archived section of the U.S. Department of Education's website that is dedicated to providing information and resources related to early childhood education.

Zero to Three. A national, nonprofit, multidisciplinary organization that advances our mission by informing, educating and supporting adults who influence the lives of infants and toddlers.

First Signs. An organization aiming to educate parents, health care providers, early childhood educators, and other professionals in order to ensure the best developmental outcome for every child.

National Pre-K and Early Learning Evaluation Center.

Early Care and Education of the UNC Franklin Porter Graham Child Development Institute.

National Center on Early Childhood Development, Teaching, and Learning (NCECDTL). NCECDTL advances best practices in the identification, development, and promotion of the implementation of evidence-based child development and teaching and learning practices that are culturally and linguistically responsive and lead to positive child outcomes across early childhood programs.

Tracking, Referral and Assessment Center for Excellence (TRACE). The major goal of TRACE is to identify and promote the use of evidence-based practices and models for improving child find, referral, early identification, and eligibility determination for infants, toddlers, and young children with developmental delays or disabilities who are eligible for early intervention or preschool special education.

IDEA Infant and Toddler Coordinators Association. This association promotes the mutual assistance, cooperation, and exchange of information and ideas in the administration of the IDEA Infant and Toddler Program. It also provides support to the state coordinators.

BeeEarly. NC Infant Toddler Program.

Support for Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities. PA Early Intervention.

Babies Can't Wait - Georgia.

Early Intervention Colorado for Infants, Toddlers, and Families.

Early Intervention for Infants & Toddlers from the CO Coalition of Adoptive Families (COCAF).

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Last updated: 01/06/20

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