At our son’s fifteen-month check-up, the pediatrician asked my husband and me a series of questions about our son’s development: Is he walking? Check. Can he stack two blocks? Check. Does he respond when you call his name? Check. Does he have a vocabulary of at least several words, including “mama” and “dada?” Umm . . . no. Our son babbled incessantly, but my husband and I realized that we couldn’t really recognize anything he said as actual words.
While there is a wide range of what is considered “normal” in terms of speech development, our pediatrician suggested that we have our son evaluated to see if he’d qualify for speech therapy through our state’s early intervention program. Since many private insurance plans do not cover habilitative therapy, or therapy that helps a person learn skills that are not developing normally, the early intervention program can help families get affordable services.
What Is Early Intervention?
Early intervention (EI) is a system of services that helps infants and toddlers who have developmental delays or disabilities. Developmental delays include the following areas:
Services are provided to a qualifying child to match his or her developmental need. These might include speech therapy, physical therapy, hearing services, or nutrition services.
Every U.S. state and territory is required by law (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) to have an early intervention program, though the specific rules and regulations can vary from state to state.
How Does My Child Qualify?
If you suspect your child has a developmental delay, either talk with your pediatrician to get a referral or locate your state’s early intervention website to find an EI office in your area. Once you’ve located your local office, you can call to request a free evaluation for your child.
While the qualification process may vary slightly from state to state, our experience with the Illinois Early Intervention Program is probably typical for most state programs: After playing a bit of phone tag with my local EI office, my husband and I were assigned a service coordinator who guided us through the evaluation process. She first met with us for an intake visit at our home to fill out a bunch of paperwork and to find out more about our son’s medical and developmental history. Then she put us in contact with a speech therapist and an occupational therapist who came to our home two weeks later for our son’s official evaluation. The two therapists asked us a series of questions and observed our son as he performed different tasks related to the different areas of development (outlined in the bulleted list above).
In the state of Illinois, a child with a delay of 30 percent or more in any developmental area qualifies for EI services. (Qualification criteria vary from state to state. For more information on your state, visit this National Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center website.) Our son showed a 33 percent delay in expressive speech, so my husband and I have opted to enroll him in a speech therapy program.
Next month I will write more about our experiences with the EI program as our son begins his weekly speech therapy sessions.
Jennifer Eckert is a supervising editor at National Geographic Learning and a freelance writer. She lives in Chicago with her husband, son, and three cats.