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Transitioning from Early Intervention (ages 0-3) to Child Find and an IEP (ages 3+)

Updated: Oct 25, 2022

If your child is two and half, then it’s time to start thinking about transitioning from your state's Early Intervention Program to your state's Child Find Program. Early Intervention and Child Find are two completely different programs with different goals. Both are meant to support qualifying children (i.e., those with delays, disabilities, special needs, etc.). Early Intervention Programs focus on development, whereas Child Find's focus is on access to curriculum.

First, speak with your child’s developmental pediatrician about whether three years old is the right time to transition your child, or whether you should continue therapies privately. (If you don't have a developmental pediatrician, find one! They are invaluable.) Transitioning to Child Find is not only a development-related question but also a financial one. After the age of three, the state will no longer cover your child's therapies through Early Intervention, but you can still obtain services that are covered by a health plan. Child Find is a state-funded program that will cover therapies provided at school (if your child qualifies).

After speaking with our developmental pediatrician, and going through the Child Find evaluation process, we decided to wait until our daughter is 3.5 years old to start because her developmental pediatrician and my husband and I do not believe that she should be focusing on "access to curriculum" yet, we need to keep focusing on her development (walking, balance, speech, etc.) for now. Everyone's journey is different, and I suggest seeing what the public school system has to offer (IEPs are valid for three years), touring private schools that can accommodate children with special needs (waitlist can be super long), looking into home school options (if desired), and talking with your child’s developmental pediatrician. Then, make the decision that you think (based on all the information you've obtained) will be the best for your child.

Here's how to get started with Child Find:

Step One: The first step is talking with your child's early intervention coordinator/developmental specialist about timing to apply for Child Find and getting an initial meeting set up with the program for a preliminary evaluation. This can be a lengthy process, so start early. We started six months before my daughter's third birthday.

The preliminary evaluation will determine what professionals will need to be scheduled to evaluate your child (and how many days will be needed) based on your child’s history and current services. You’ll then be placed in queue for a Child Find evaluation and Individualized Education Plan (or IEP) meeting to determine whether your child is eligible for a special education program, including school-based therapies and an IEP. Child Find will reach out to you before your child’s third birthday to schedule your child’s evaluation and IEP eligibility meeting. Set an alert in your calendar to reach out one week before you child turns three, if you haven't heard from them yet.

Step Two: The second step will be the evaluation. As a parent of a child with special needs, you are probably well-versed with the evaluation process. Evaluations ARE NOT the time to show case your child’s strengths and abilities. Just like qualifying for the Early Intervention Program, you will need to qualify for an IEP. If you up-play your child’s abilities, they may not qualify for services. So take the rose-colored glasses off and get serious and honest with Child Find during the evaluation.

These meetings can be extra tough because the focus is one what your child can't do, which can be triggering, exhausting, and emotional. Try to plan something fun after to take the edge off.

Step Three: If your child has qualified for services, step three is to prepare for the IEP meeting. Our daughter qualified for school-based services, and our IEP meeting was scheduled to discuss her accommodations and goals. The night before, I realized I didn’t really know what to expect or what I would be needing to advocate for. So, I googled how to plan for an IEP meeting and learned as much as I could.

To prepare, my husband and I made a list of everything that we (and our nanny) do to care for our daughter because we knew that she would need the same care at school. These items would need to be addressed as "accommodations." Accommodations are services that the school is required to provide to your child so that your child has equal access to learning. You can think of accommodations as all of the ways that your child might need assistance throughout the day (that their neurotypical peers would not need). For example, your child may need assistance eating, walking, toileting, or taking medications. We also made a list of our concerns.

After our IEP meeting, we felt confident that we addressed everything my daughter would need in her IEP, and that she was set up for success. The child psychologist, nurse, coordinators, and therapists told me they wished every parent came prepared with so much information because it helped them do their jobs.

I know that those other parents probably would have prepared better, if they knew how and what to prepare. The district does not give parents much guidance or insight into how to prepare and what information is helpful or needed to the evaluators during this process. We are only given a large packet with our "rights." And as special needs parents, we don't have much spare time for extra research. I thought a questionnaire that addressed the areas of care that our child needed would have been so helpful for me. So, I decided to create one.

Fill out the questionnaire below, take it to your IEP meeting and make sure that everything you or your child’s care provider does and the precautions that you take for your child’s health, safety, and wellbeing are addressed in the accommodations section of the IEP. Do your research, ask questions, post on your local Facebook group and get whatever intel you can about your local school’s process. Preparation is key to helping the school district understand your child’s needs and setting your child up for success. Good luck!

IEP Preparation Questionnaire

  1. Dressing Assistance:

    1. How do you help your child prepare themselves to go out of the house (e.g., putting on clothes, shoes, hat, jacket)?

    2. Will teachers assist with taking jackets or snow boots on and off for outside activities/recess? If not, request this as an accommodation.

  2. Toilet Assistance:

    1. Is your child potty-trained? Yes/No? What assistance does your child need to go potty (e.g., help sitting down, getting up, wiping, diaper changes, washing hands)

    2. If you child is still wearing diapers, make sure your child will be in a classroom that can accommodate diaper changes. Sometimes facilities need special state sanitary licenses to assist with diaper changing. If your child needs assistance to wash their hands, build that assistance into an accommodation if it's not something that's provided to all children.

  3. Activity Assistance:

    1. Does your child need help walking? Sitting? Standing up? Moving from place-to-place or room-to-room?

    2. For example, our daughter needs assistance walking on uneven terrain and getting in and out of a chair because of balance issues, so we made sure that kind of assistance was added as an accommodation.

  4. Meal-Time Assistance:

    1. Does your child need assistance eating? Can they use a spoon/fork? Take bites?

    2. What about drinking? Can they hold their own cup?

    3. List everything that you do to assist your child with eating/drinking. For example, our daughter overstuffs her mouth because of mouth awareness issues, so she can only be given three small pieces of food at a time. We built this into her accommodations, so that she will not be sat down with all of her food in front of her, which would present a choking hazard.

  5. Concerns:

    1. Make a list of all of your concerns. Make sure you understand whether an accommodation should be made, if the teacher will automatically be helping all children with the task, or if a talk with the teacher would be more appropriate. Here were some of our concerns:

      1. Potty assistance. We made sure that an accommodation was not needed for diaper changes and that diaper changes were a part of the classroom routine. If they weren't, they would need to be added as an accommodation.

      2. Chocking hazards. If your child is still oral sensory seeking/mouthing, make sure this is addressed in the IEP or with the teacher. We were assured that small items would not be in the classroom, so an accommodation was not necessary.

      3. Playing on the playground. Balance issues present fall issues for our daughter. We requested assistance on playground equipment as an accommodation.

      4. Tipping backward in chairs. We requested special seating near a wall, so that our daughter could not tip her chair back and fall because this is how her chair is set up at home.

      5. Communication device. Our daugther is in the process of obtaining a communication device. The school will not allow her to bring it because of liability issues, but will likely cover a device for her to use at school only. We're going to need to figure this out when she starts.

      6. Personal aide. We were hoping our daugther could be assigned an aide or we could provide one, but this is not something the school could accommodate for her.

      7. What are your concerns?

Make sure everything you've listed above and all of your concerns are adequately addressed either because (1) the school will automatically provide it (e.g., diaper changes, in some schools) or (2) it has been added as an accommodation (e.g., assistance walking on uneven terrain).

Finally, some parents suggested bringing an advocate to the evaluation and IEP meeting. I spoke with Child Find about their thoughts on this during the preliminary phone call, and the representative said that bringing an advocate, immediately makes the process adversarial in nature, when it should instead be a co-operative process. I suggest saving the advocate for when problems arise, and not starting off with the appearance of distrust in the public school system. However, if you feel more comfortable with an advocate, reach out to one and consider bringing them to the meeting. I am an attorney, so I’m an advocate by trade, and felt comfortable on my own.

Children who aren’t eligible for special education services under an IEP may be eligible for a Section 504 Plan. If your child doesn’t qualify for an IEP, you may want to inquire about a Section 504 Plan.

Any additional tips? Please share them in the comments below!

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Ask for the purposed IEP ahead of the meeting. This gives you time to process what services and accommodations are being suggested and how you feel about them.

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