EI Today Supports Tomorrow’s Students with Special Educational Needs
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) turns 45 this year.
When signed into law on November 29, 1975, it was called the Education for All Handicapped Children Act. Congress renamed it in 1990. But, its goal has always been to guarantee every school-age child with a disability a free, appropriate public education (FAPE).
Not until 1986, however, did the law address children younger than school age.
That year, Congress established Early Intervention (EI), recognizing the goal of supporting students with special educational needs in schools would be made easier to achieve if begun before those students enter school.
Although you’re responsible for administering special education services delivered in public schools, knowing something about Part C, which covers the services children receive before they become students, is important.
While school-based related services are our primary focus at Pediatric Therapeutic Services (PTS), our clinicians also deliver Early Intervention services. And we’re regularly involved in evaluating EI recipients as they prepare to enter kindergarten, recommending which Part B services they need.
For your review and reference, here’s a brief overview of EI services as set forth in IDEA Part C, and how they benefit the children who will one day be your students.
Why the Benefits of Early Intervention are Important and Urgent
Again, IDEA currently guarantees students a FAPE through two kinds of services, depending on age:
- Early intervention (EI) services from birth until age three (Part C services).
- Special education services in public schools (including charter schools) from age three through high school graduation or age 21, whichever comes first (Part B services).
Although IDEA started incorporating EI in 1986, not until 2004, did the regulatory text explicitly recognize “the significant brain development that occurs during a child’s first three years of life” as a rationale for these services.
The word “significant” is arguably an understatement. Our development begins as soon as we’re born, and critical milestones start coming quickly.
In just two months, for instance, most infants are already cooing and gurgling, paying attention to faces, starting to smile at people, can hold up their heads, and are making smoother arm and leg movements, among other achievements.
These cognitive, emotional, and social capacities rapidly start building on each other. By the time most children turn three they can (among other achievements) dress and undress themselves, easily run and climb, take turns playing games with friends, and demonstrate affection and empathy without being prompted.
In the first few years of life, then, when we’re forging more than one million new neural connections every second, time is truly of the essence!
The benefits of early intervention for children with intellectual disabilities, developmental delays, and other special needs are hard to overstate. EI services help infants and toddlers learn and master some of life’s most basic skills. They can set children on a more direct path to their fullest potential.
As a clinical psychologist in Pennsylvania told the CDC: “Acting early can help a child communicate, play, and learn from the world now and for the future. It can also prevent frustration…from turning into more difficult behaviors.”
The Who, What, and How of Early Intervention Services
Part C of IDEA mandates states provide EI services to eligible infants and toddlers with developmental delays, or who have health conditions that put them “at risk of experiencing a substantial developmental delay” without these services.
Unlike Part B, which specifies 13 categories of disability in which students with special educational needs in schools can be eligible for support, Part C leaves establishing eligibility standards to the states.
Part B special education services in schools address only needs and functional goals related to a child’s education. Part C services are developmental. They are delivered in the child’s natural environment—in other words, a setting typical for same-aged children without disabilities—the home, playground, daycare, and so on. This setting is anal
ogous to the least restrictive environment (LRE) in Part B.
EI services can include but aren’t limited to:
- Occupational Therapy
To help children learn and master functional skills for taking part in daily activities and routines (like dressing, feeding, and toileting), or to improve their sensory processing.
- Physical Therapy
To help children learn to sit, crawl, walk, run, and build their physical strength and motor skills.
- Speech and Language Therapy
Which includes augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) systems, to help children articulate sounds properly, build their vocabularies, learn to follow sequential directions, and convey their needs and wants clearly.
- Medical and Nursing Services
For diagnostic, evaluation, or consultative purposes, and to implement interventions recommended by a therapist as part of other early intervention services.
- Psychological Services
To screen for and assess developmental disorders and delays, to train parents and families in ways to help the student, and to assist in the student’s transition to special education services in the public schools.
As does Part B, Part C includes Child Find requirements. Hospitals and public health facilities, health care professionals, child care and early learning programs, and state child service agencies, as well as schools and local education agencies (LEAs), must identify and evaluate children with disabilities.
These parties, as well as parents, can all refer children for EI. Qualified personnel must evaluate and assess a child’s initial and ongoing eligibility, just as in Part B.
The Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is the document governing special education and related service delivery in the schools. In EI, the foundational document is the Individualized Family Services Plan (IFSP).
A multidisciplinary team, including the child’s parents or other caregivers as members, drafts and implements the IFSP, as with the IEP. Unlike the IEP, the IFSP, as its name reflects, addresses not only the child’s needs but also those of the child’s family.
Let PTS Show Your Program How to Stay Agile in Challenging Times
In 1975, when he approved what would become the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, President Gerald Ford expressed reservations. Despite supporting its objective and “good intentions,” he claimed it promised “more than the Federal Government can deliver” and “falsely rais[ed] the expectations of the groups affected.”
In the 45 years since, this milestone civil rights law has transformed millions of students’ lives and educational experiences for the better—among them the more than 400,000 children (as of 2019) receiving Early Intervention services under Part C.
Yet, Ford’s dim view of the Act’s funding prospects has unfortunately been borne out.
Although IDEA calls for the federal government to fund 40% of the excess costs of educating students with special needs, actual funding fell to about 15% in 2019. Both Parts B and C saw funding boosts in late 2019, but more recently proposed spending bills responding to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have failed to include dedicated IDEA funding.
What does this funding shortfall mean for your program? You’ll continue to need cost-effective and innovative ways to support students with special educational needs in your schools, including Part C recipients transferring to Part B services.
At PTS, we can help. For more than 20 years, we’ve shown special education programs in districts and schools across the greater Delaware Valley how to streamline their expenses without sacrificing quality services. We can show your program how, too.
Get started by clicking here to claim your free copy of our eBook, Creating an Agile School-Based Therapy Program: An Administrator’s Guide.