Early Intervention FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions

What is early intervention?

Early Intervention programs employ professional, degreed therapists who are expert at helping a child reach their full potential. Early intervention services are important to improving a child’s development, both in how they directly impact the child and how they benefit the family by strengthening and empowering a nurturing environment.

What should a parent or caregiver be looking for?

All kids develop at different rates, and not meeting milestones at the same time as other kids the same age is not always a reason to worry. For example, some babies start walking as early as 9 months, while others may not take their first steps for more than a year. Sometimes children who may appear to be lagging catch up on their own, but a child with a developmental disability, such as autism, will need therapeutic intervention to reach their best potential. (via TEIS)

What is the difference between an evaluation and an assessment?

An evaluation is used to determine if your child has a disability and whether your child is eligible for early intervention services. An initial screening is a brief, informal checklist regarding your child and your concerns. This helps determine whether a more extensive evaluation or assessment is needed.

An assessment is the process of gathering information about how your child is developing, and then determining what kind of help might be needed. This information may come from doctor’s reports, results from developmental tests, and other important records. (via Allegheny Intermediate Unit)

What can parents do to prepare for an assessment?

Parents and caregivers play an important role in the assessment process. Preparing the following information prior to an assessment is essential.

  • Be ready to share important information such as medical records or other evaluations.
  • Think about any questions or concerns related to the development of the child.
  • Think about which family members or child care providers might have valuable information.
  • Be prepared to inform the service coordinator of any needed assistance, such as an interpreter.

(via Allegheny Intermediate Unit)

Who is eligible for Early Intervention Services?

Birth to Age 3

Infants and Toddlers who have:

  • A 25 percent delay in one or more areas of development


  • A specialist’s determination that there is a delay even though it doesn’t show up on the assessments (called informed clinical opinion)


  • A known physical or mental condition that has a high probability for developmental delays (such as Down syndrome)

Age 3 to Age of Entrance to First Grade

Toddlers and children who have:

  • A 25 percent delay in one or more areas of development


  • Any of the following physical or mental disabilities: autism/pervasive developmental disorder: serious emotional disturbance: neurological impairment; deafness/hearing loss; specific learning disability; intellectual disability; multiple disabilities; other health impairment; physical disability; speech impairment or blindness/visual impairment;


  •  Are in need of special education services.

Through a unique collaboration between the Pennsylvania Departments of Education (PDE) and the Department of Human Services, the Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL) administers the commonwealth’s early intervention program for eligible infants, toddlers, and preschoolers.

At a local level, the infant/toddler early intervention programs administer the services for children from birth to three years of age. OCDEL contracts services through intermediate units (IUs), school districts, and private agencies for local services to preschoolers from three years of age to the age of beginners (age of entrance into first grade). (via PA Families Inc.)

Is there a cost associated with early intervention?

There is no charge for an early intervention evaluation to determine if your child is eligible for services.

Depending on your state, there may be a charge on a sliding scale for services such as speech–language therapy, occupational therapy, or physical therapy. However, children cannot be denied services because their families are unable to pay (via Zero to Three).

What is meant by access, participation, and support?

  • Access – Providing access to a wide range of learning opportunities, activities, settings, and environments is a defining feature of high quality early childhood inclusion.
  • Participation – Even if environments and programs are designed to facilitate access, some children will need additional individualized accommodations and supports to participate fully in play and learning activities with peers and adults.
  • Support – In addition to provisions addressing access and participation, an infrastructure of systems-level supports must be in place to undergird the efforts of individuals and organizations providing inclusive services to children and families.

(via NAEYC)

What is an Individualized Education Plan (IEP)?

After an evaluation and assessment are completed, an Individualized Education Plan, known as an IEP, is created.  An IEP describes the services your child will receive based on your child’s individual needs. In addition to including measurable annual goals, an IEP will state information about services to be received, such as start date, length, and frequency. (via Allegheny Intermediate Unit)

Does receiving early intervention mean that children enter special education later on?

No. Some families worry about participating in early intervention because they don’t want their child to be “labeled” when he or she enters school. But information about a child’s participation in early intervention is not shared with the elementary school.

Children receive services for different lengths of time, depending on what they need. Some children participate for a short time to address a temporary delay in development. Other children may require follow-up special education services once they enter school. (via Zero to Three).

Early Intervention Glossary

A PDF of this glossary is available for download. (En Español)

  • Assistive Technology (AT): any item, piece of equipment, software program, or product system that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of children with disabilities. Assistive technology helps with speaking, seeing, hearing, learning, walking, and many other functions. Different disabilities require different assistive technologies such as wheelchairs, walkers, braces, educational software, pencil holders, communication boards, etc.
  • Developmental Delay: a significant lag in a child’s achievement of developmental milestones in one or more areas of development (adaptive, cognitive, language, motor, social–emotional)
  • Disability: a physical or mental condition—such as hearing loss, cerebral palsy, autism, or Down syndrome—that affects the way the body works or develops and that significantly limits a person’s abilities in one or more major life activities, including walking, standing, seeing, hearing, speaking, and learning [Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 (Public Law 101-336).]
  • Inclusion: the practice of educating children with disabilities in the same classroom as their same-age peers who do not have disabilities. Inclusion is part of the philosophy that people are more similar than different, that differences make classrooms and experiences richer, and that everyone—children with and without disabilities, families, educators, and communities—benefits when children are educated together.
  • Individualized Education Program (IEP): a written plan for a child between the ages of three and 21 that outlines the child’s learning goals and the services to be provided to meet their educational needs
  • Individualized Family Services Plan (IFSP): a written plan for children between the ages of birth to three years old that outlines the services and supports to be provided to the child and family to meet their developmental needs.
  • Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 2004 (Public Law 108-446): the law that governs how states and agencies provide early intervention and special education services to children and young adults.
  • Multidisciplinary Team: a team of professionals who evaluate a child to determine whether a delay or disability exists and whether they are eligible for early intervention services and support.
  • Least Restrictive Environment (LRE): the educational setting that allows a child—to the maximum extent possible—to be educated with their same-age peers who do not have disabilities.
  • Referral: a formal request that is often made by families, physicians, or teachers to begin the early intervention evaluation process.
  • Sensory Processing Issues: difficulty handling and responding to sensory input.

Information via NAEYC and  Allegheny Intermediate Unit.

Image: An early learning professional changes the diaper of a young child who is placed on a changing table. The young child looks up at the caregiver while raising their hands in the air.

Series Navigation

The Developmentally Appropriate Parenting Series highlights several early childhood topics to support parents and caregivers who are caring for young children. Use the list below to navigate through each series topic:

Learn more about the series.

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Picture: A young baby looks up at the camera.
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