Early Intervention: IDEA Part C

Contributed by PWSA | USA's Family Support Director Stacy Ward

PWSA | USA often receives questions about early intervention, the difference between Individualized Education Programs and Individual Family Support Plans, and how to qualify for each from parents. Part C (Early Intervention) of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was established in 1986 by congress in response to an urgent need to “enhance the development of infants and toddlers with disabilities; reduce educational costs by minimizing the need for special education through early intervention; minimize the likelihood of institutionalization, and maximize independent living; and enhance the capacity of families to meet their child’s needs.” {§1431(a)(1)(2)(3)(4)}

Part C varies from state to state much more than Part B of IDEA. Depending on your state, early intervention (EI) is provided between a child's birth and three or five years of age. This is the time frame when brains are most malleable, and we can make the most change in the shortest time frame. In some states, providers may offer a Response to Intervention (RTI) services prior to enrolling in EI. We often see this with speech and language therapy. It’s important to remember that accepting the RTI does not mean that you are forfeiting your right to EI, you can agree to both.

A difference between Part C and Part B is the use of health insurance. Many Part C lead agencies require families to exhaust all insurance services before they will provide the services. An additional difference between Part C and Part B is that Part C focuses on the family unit and services are provided in the natural environment, usually the home rather than in school. EI is family centric rather than child centric. States have been given the authority to determine the definition of developmental delay that will be used in determining eligibility for EI and whether or not it includes children at risk for disabilities in their service provision. Evaluations are conducted by clinical professionals who are experienced with the development of infants and toddlers. Evaluation areas include physical (reaching and crawling), cognitive (thinking and problem solving), communication (talking and understanding), social/emotional (feeling secure and happy) and adaptive (eating, dressing).  If the child is determined eligible for EI, an Individualized Family Support Plan (IFSP) is created.

What is an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) you may ask? The IFSP is a plan that documents and guides the EI process and services for children and their families. The IFSP must include several things: the child’s present level of functioning need in all areas that were evaluated, family information including concerns, priorities, and resources, expected outcomes, specific EI services being provided and where in the natural environment they are being provided, who is paying for the services and the steps that will be taken when the time comes to transition out of EI. The IFSP is developed by the team, including the parents and reviewed every six months and updated at least once annually.

To learn more about your state’s EI regulations and policies visit

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