State and federal laws recognize the importance of addressing developmental delays early in life. That’s where early intervention programs come in. They help children with delays from birth to age 5.

A physical therapist, occupational therapist, speech therapist or a special educator can provide early intervention services. These services focus on the critical areas of language & speech, social, cognitive and physical development.

Babies and toddlers

For children younger than age 3, you can request a therapist or special educator to evaluate your child in your home. The evaluation is done through play and screening visuals. A service coordinator may accompany the evaluator or team and can answer your questions. Input from your child’s doctors and therapists is crucial, so make sure you have their support before you begin the evaluation process.

For more information

Delaware: Division of Public Health, Child Development Watch. New Castle County, 800-671-0050, 302-283-7240; Kent and Sussex Counties,  800-752-9393, 302-424-7300. Early intervention program for children ages birth-3 with disabilities or developmental delays.

Pennsylvania: CONNECT Helpline, 800-692-7288. Assists families in locating resources and providing development information for children ages birth-5. Assists parents in making a direct link to their county early intervention program or local preschool early intervention program.

South Jersey: Southern New Jersey Regional Early Intervention Collaborative (SNJREIC), 856-768-6747 (Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester, and Salem counties). Helps families to meet the developmental and health-related needs of children ages birth-three who have delays or disabilities by providing quality services and support to families and their children

Additional Resources

Article: Is it a developmental delay?

Child Development Program, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, 215-590-7500

Metrokids.com SpecialKids Guide, early intervention category. Lists agencies and care providers.

Kids younger than 3 are eligible for services if the evaluation determines that they have a significant delay in one or more areas of development or if a qualified professional determines that there is a delay even though it doesn’t show up on formal assessments. The child may also be eligible if she has a physical or mental condition with a high probability for developmental delays (such as Down syndrome).

Ages 3-5

For ages 3-5, evaluations take place at your child’s day care, preschool or, in Pennsylvania, a county intermediate unit. The evaluation will be conducted by therapists or a school psychologist.

A child is eligible if she has a significant delay in one or more areas of development and requires special education and related services. Children are also eligible if they have autism/pervasive developmental disorder, serious emotional disturbance, neurological impairment, deafness/hearing loss, specific learning disability, mental retardation, multiple disabilities, other health impairment, physical disability, speech impairment or blindness/visual impairment.                                                    

Your child’s plan

County early intervention programs administer services from birth-age 3.  For older children up to 1st grade, services are provided through school districts, private agencies and, in Pennsylvania, intermediate units. 

An individual family service plan (IFSP) for children 0-3 and an individualized education program (IEP) for older children is prepared by a team that may include therapists, educators, a service coordinator and the parent.

The plan will contain specific goals and interventions and will state how often your child will receive services and from whom. For example, your child may be authorized for one session per week for 30 minutes of speech therapy with a speech therapist. The plan’s services and supports should be free to your family and individualized to your child’s unique needs.  

Is there a stigma?

The benefits of early intervention services far outweigh any risk of “labeling.” Addressing a child’s developmental needs early may help prevent the need for future intervention and could make significant progress possible at this early stage.

Also, receiving early intervention does not mean that your child will receive special education services in elementary school.  In the late winter before your child is to start kindergarten, his school district will start its own evaluation process to determine what services your child will be eligible for in school.  At every step in your child’s education, you have a say in what services your child will receive.  

Infants and toddlers grow very quickly and are especially receptive to educational interventions. The free and individualized services of early intervention can make a huge difference if your child is experiencing a developmental delay.

Jennifer Nestle, Esq.  is an attorney and Christi Lewis, MEd is an education consultant/advocate at Frankel & Kershenbaum, LLC in West Conshohocken, PA,


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