Early Intervention Eligibility

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Early Intervention (EI) services under Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) are not mandatory. The federal government gives states a choice of whether they will take part in Part C of the IDEA. Currently all states and U.S. territories participate in Part C.

Under Part C of the IDEA, children under the age of 3 are eligible for EI services: (1) if they have a developmental delay; or (2) if they have a diagnosed disability that is likely to result in a developmental delay. IDEA allows each state to define “developmental delay.” Therefore, what constitutes a developmental delay in one state may not be a developmental delay in another.

In most states, a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder before the age of 3 would qualify a child for EI services. Similarly, a diagnosis of Fragile X or Down Syndrome, two genetic conditions that can be associated with ASD, would usually enable a child to receive EI services, even if the child does not have a diagnosis of ASD, because these conditions are likely to result in developmental delay. Most children who receive EI services do not have a diagnosed disability by the time they are 3 years old, however. These children must have a documented developmental delay.

States look at the following areas of development when determining if a child has developmental delay: (1) physical development; (2) cognitive development (thinking, learning, solving problems); (3) communication development; (4) social or emotional development; and (5) self-help skills. An evaluation is required to find out if your child has a developmental delay.

Sometimes a doctor, such as your child’s pediatrician, will refer your child to EI. The doctor may contact the provider of services directly and help you set up an appointment so that your child can be evaluated to determine what services are needed. If your child is in daycare, the daycare provider may have some concerns and recommend your child for EI services. In most cases, however, it is the parent who refers his or her child.

If you think your child under the age of 3 may need help, you should contact the Early Intervention agency in your area. Your pediatrician can tell you how to do this or you can look in the blue pages of the phone book. Your area school district and local pediatric hospital should also have this information.

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Last Updated: August 13, 2020

The Center for Autism Research and The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia do not endorse or recommend any specific person or organization or form of treatment. The information included within the CAR Autism Roadmap™ and CAR Resource Directory™ should not be considered medical advice and should serve only as a guide to resources publicly and privately available. Choosing a treatment, course of action, and/or a resource is a personal decision, which should take into account each individual's and family's particular circumstances.


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