Autism Spectrum Disorder: Information and Resources for Families

A Brief Overview

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a spectrum condition with varied signs and symptoms. It involves challenges in multiple areas, including social skills, emotional regulation, communication, and behavior.
  • ASD can appear differently from one person to the next, and as a child develops from infancy through adulthood. Families concerned about a child’s development can call the state’s Family Health Hotline at 1-800-322-2588. This toll-free number offers help in English, Spanish and other languages.
  • Parents of infants and toddlers aged 0-3 with developmental concerns may benefit from the services provided by the Early Support for Infants and Toddlers (ESIT) program, which provides specialized services and support that are crucial during the early and highly formative years of a child’s life.
  • Students with ASD may qualify for school-based services through an Individualized Education Program (IEP) if their disability significantly impacts educational access. These services are determined through evaluations that can include various related conditions. A medical diagnosis is not required for school-based evaluations or interventions.
  • The Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA) accepts diagnoses from Autism Centers of Excellence (COEs) as a component of DDA services eligibility, with the exception of naturopathic providers.
  • Connecting with other families to share and learn from experiences is invaluable, and there is a wealth of resources available to assist those seeking support and information in Washington State. Parent to Parent (P2P) programs across various counties provide free training and support, with support groups tailored to cultural and linguistic communities such as Spanish-speaking and Black & African American families.
  • PAVE provides support to families navigating various healthcare systems related to disability. Fill out a Helpline Request for direct support and click on the “Health and Wellness” link to be directed with individual support.

Full Article

Parents of individuals with autism have many different experiences when watching their child’s development, navigating school years and relationships, and building community and belonging. When developmental milestones aren’t met in typical timeframes, families may seek a diagnosis, medical interventions, and/or support from school.

CDC numbers show that 1 in 36 children have ASD and 2.8% of 8-year-old children have a diagnosis of ASD. According to Washington’s Department of Health (DOH), between 23,000-48,000 of the state’s children have some form of diagnosed ASD.

April is Autism Acceptance Month, providing an opportunity to consider challenges and celebrations for individuals who experience neurodiversity, which is a word used to capture a range of differences in the ways that humans function and experience the world. Much of the Autistic community rallies to honor neurodiversity, uplift the voices of self-advocates, and forward the movement of civil and social rights.

To promote dignity, neurodiversity, and empowerment, many autistic self-advocates prefer identity-first language, such as “autistic person” instead of person-first language like “person with autism”. This approach recognizes autism as an integral and inseparable part of an individual’s identity.

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is referred to as a “spectrum”, which means that signs and symptoms vary among individuals. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as “a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges.

“There is often nothing about how people with ASD look that sets them apart from other people, but people with ASD may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from most other people. The learning, thinking, and problem-solving abilities of people with ASD can range from gifted to severely challenged. Some people with ASD need a lot of help in their daily lives; others need less.”

A diagnosis of ASD includes several conditions that were formerly diagnosed separately, including autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and Asperger syndrome. A short YouTube video by Osmosis.org provides an overview of ASD.

Autism Indicators and Markers Across the Lifespan

People with ASD may struggle with social, emotional, and communication skills. They might repeat certain behaviors or have rigid ideas about routines.  Indicators of ASD often begin during early childhood and typically last throughout life. Professor and autism self-advocate, Dr. Stephen Shore said, “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” ASD can appear differently from one person to the next, and as a child develops from infancy through adulthood.  There are services and supports available at each stage of development and life.

Early Childhood Indicators and Supports

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children have a developmental screening at every well-child check-up, with an autism screening at 18 months of age and again between ages 2 and 3. To encourage early screening and intervention, the CDC provides developmental milestone trackers for children Birth-5, including a Milestone Tracker App. State-specific information about early screening recommendations and guidance is available from the Washington Department of Health (DOH).  Families concerned about a child’s development can call the state’s Family Health Hotline at 1-800-322-2588. This toll-free number offers help in English, Spanish and other languages.

Some early childhood indicators of ASD include:

  • Not pointing at objects, such as an airplane flying overhead, or looking when someone else points
  • Not wanting to be held or cuddled
  • Repeating or echoing words, phrases, or actions

Several state agencies collaborated to publish Early Learning and Development Guidelines. The booklet includes information about what children can do and learn at different stages of development, focused on birth through third grade. A free downloadable version is available in English, Somali, and Spanish on the Washington State Department of Children, Youth & Families (DCYF) website. An English translation is also available on the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) Early Learning Resources page.

Parents of infants and toddlers aged 0-3 with developmental concerns may benefit from the services provided by the Early Support for Infants and Toddlers (ESIT) program, which provides specialized services and support that are crucial during the early and highly formative years of a child’s life. Early intervention services through ESIT not only supports the child’s immediate developmental needs but also lays a foundation for their future learning and adaptation. ESIT provides the following:

Early Evaluation and Identification: ESIT helps in the early identification of developmental delays or disabilities, including autism, through assessments conducted by a team of professionals. These evaluations focus on key developmental areas such as motor skills, cognition, communication, social interaction, and self-help skills. Early diagnosis is crucial for autism, as it can lead to early intervention, which is shown to improve outcomes.

Services and Supports: Once a child is evaluated and deemed eligible, they receive an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) under Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This plan is tailored to meet the unique developmental needs of the child and also considers the family’s resources, priorities, and concerns. The IFSP includes detailed information on the child’s current development levels, the specific interventions planned, and the expected outcomes. Through ESIT, children can access a wide range of early intervention services designed to address specific developmental needs associated with ASD.

Family-Centered Approach: The family plays a crucial role in the development and implementation of the IFSP. Family Resource Coordinators (FRCs) assist families in understanding their child’s needs, the available services, and the implementation of the intervention plan. This inclusive approach ensures that the family’s needs and goals are addressed, promoting a supportive environment for the child.

The ESIT website includes videos to guide family caregivers and a collection of Parent Rights and Leadership resources, with multiple language options.

Parents may also contact their local school district for evaluation.  Regardless of whether a student is medically diagnosed with ASD, a school district has the affirmative duty to seek out, evaluate and serve—if eligible—any child within its boundaries who has a known or suspected disability condition that may significantly impact access to learning (Child Find Mandate). Child Find applies to IDEA’s Part B IEP services for children ages 3-21 and to IDEA’s Part C early intervention services for children Birth-3.  See PAVE’s article about early intervention services for more information.

Supporting a Student with ASD

Children and youth in adolescence may demonstrate the following characteristics of ASD:

  • Avoiding eye contact or making excessive eye contact
  • Uncertainty in understanding what facial expressions or tones of voice mean
  • Not understanding sarcasm, figures of speech, or metaphors

Autism is an eligibility category for a student to receive school-based services through an Individualized Education Program (IEP). The categories are defined by the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). State law further defines the categories and criteria for intervention.  

The Washington Administrative Code that describes IEP eligibility (WAC 392-172A-01035) describes autism as “a developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction, generally evident before age three, that adversely affects a student’s educational performance. Other characteristics often associated with autism are engagement in repetitive activities and stereotyped movements, resistance to environmental change or change in daily routines, and unusual responses to sensory experiences.”

Schools have specific evaluation tools to determine how the features of an autistic disorder might impact school. Evaluations can also determine eligibility based on health impairments (for example, ADHD), speech delays, learning disabilities, or emotional behavioral conditions that might co-occur with autism. See PAVE’s article about evaluation process for more information, including a list of all IDEA eligibility categories.

In short, a student is eligible for an Individualized Education Program (IEP) if the evaluation determines:

  • The student has a disability
  • The disability significantly impacts access to education
  • The student requires Specially Designed Instruction (SDI) and/or Related Services

Not every student with ASD is eligible for school-based services through an IEP. Some may have “major life activity” impacts to qualify for a Section 504 Plan, which can accommodate a student within general education. Section 504 provides anti-discrimination protections as part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Keep in mind that students with IEPs have disability-related protections from IDEA and Section 504. Additional protections are part of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). See PAVE’s article about disability history for additional information.

A diagnosis is not required to provide special education or related services. If the school district requires a comprehensive medical evaluation, they may request permission from the parent to have the child evaluated at the district’s expense (WAC 392-172A-03020).

Where to Begin to Obtain Supports

Families whose children experience autism may need services beyond school. Speech, Occupational Therapy, Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapies, and other services may be available through insurance if they are determined to be medically necessary. The state Health Care Authority provides information about ABA resources and how to seek approval from public insurance (Apple Health) for specific therapies. HCA also hosts a list of Contracted ABA providers in Washington State.

Diagnosing ASD can be difficult since it can appear differently from one person to another, and indicators change depending on the chronological and developmental age of the individual. Doctors look at the person’s behavior and development to make a diagnosis.  The diagnostic process usually takes a while, lasting years in some cases. In addition to working through insurance and health systems, you may encounter barriers when identifying providers who can diagnose within the age range of the individual.

Medical diagnoses in Washington are provided by Autism Centers of Excellence (COEs). An Autism COE may be a health care provider, medical practice, psychology practice, or multidisciplinary assessment team that has completed a certification training authorized by the state’s Health Care Authority (HCA). Physicians, nurse practitioners, and pediatric primary care naturopaths are eligible to apply for COE training and endorsement. The Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA) accepts diagnoses from COEs as a component of DDA services eligibility, with the exception of naturopathic providers.

Locate screening and diagnostic services in your location at ParentHelp123. If insurance doesn’t cover the full cost of diagnosis, check with the diagnostician to identify sliding scale or other payment options.

PAVE provides support to families navigating various healthcare systems related to disability. Fill out a Helpline Request for direct support and click on the “Health and Wellness” link to be directed with individual support. 

 Building Community Connections

Connecting with other families to share and learn from experiences is invaluable, and there is a wealth of resources available to assist those seeking support and information in Washington State. These resources include various programs and organizations tailored to meet specific needs, with some services focusing on race, cultural identity, and language. By tapping into these resources, families and individuals can find not only support but also a sense of belonging within a community that understands their unique challenges and perspectives.

Parent to Parent (P2P) of Pierce County, a program of PAVE, partners with Pierce County Human Services and The Arc of Washington State to provide No Cost training and support. PAVE’s Pierce “Parent 2 Parent Support Groups” offers a nurturing space for caregivers to connect, share experiences, and find guidance. Support groups specific to a cultural and linguistic community (Spanish-speaking, and Black & African American families) will be supported by a PAVE facilitator that is a cultural/linguistic match for the families served.

Parent to Parent (P2P) programs across various counties provide free training and support, with support groups tailored to cultural and linguistic communities such as Spanish-speaking and Black & African American families. P2P of Yakima, Walla Walla, Chelan/Douglas, Benton/Franklin, Skagit, Snohomish, Whatcom, Grays Harbor/Pacific, Clark, Klickitat, Lewis, Skamania, and Grant counties provide Spanish-speaking support, events, and resources. P2P King County supports Spanish-speaking and African American families.

Informing Families provides navigational supports for all ages, including referral to culturally responsive programs and services, such as Vietnamese Family Autism Advisory Board (VFAAB), Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic (OBCC), and Families of Color Seattle (FOCS).

The South Sound Autism Partnership is a collaborative network dedicated to raising awareness, acceptance, and advocacy for autism. SSAP aims to support and enact positive change within the community through monthly online meetings. Recordings of guest speakers at previous meetings and meeting notes are available on the SSAP website.

Additional Resources

The downloadable Autism Guidebook for Washington State, published by a dedicated Autism Task Force in collaboration with the DOH and other agencies, offers a comprehensive resource for families, educators, medical professionals, and care providers. It features a detailed Autism Lifespan Resource Directory, diagnostic and special education eligibility criteria, and recommended intervention.

Another guidebook, the Pierce County Parent Coalition (PC2) Resource Guide, contains clickable and searchable links to services throughout the state.

The University of Washington Autism Center provides a manageable place to begin with a small collection of resource categories that include online tools, early recognition, organization, and neurodiversity. Within its online tools, UW maintains lists of organizations that provide advocacy, assessments, intervention services, and research/training.

Washington Autism Alliance (WAA) provides free support for families navigating insurance and medical systems and can help with DDA applications. WAA’s website requests families to join the agency by providing basic information before they navigate to request an intake. Note that while basic services are free from WAA, the agency may charge a fee based on a sliding scale if families request legal services from an attorney.

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) shares resources by autistic individuals with lived experience for people who have autism spectrum disorders, including a welcome kit for newly diagnosed individuals: Welcome to the Autistic Community!

The DOH website links to family supports and services for individuals of all ages, including links to Regional Genetic Clinics.

Starting School: When and How to Enroll a Student in School

A Brief Overview

  • Compulsory attendance begins at 8 years of age and continues until the age of 18 unless the student qualifies for certain exceptions.
  • Infants and toddlers receiving early intervention services may be eligible to start preschool as early as 3 years old to continue receiving specialized instruction and related services.
  • A student aged 4 years old by August 31 may be screened for Transition to Kindergarten (TK), a state program designed for students who need additional support to be successful in kindergarten the following year.
  • A child must have turned 5 years old by August 31 to enroll in kindergarten, and 6 years old to enroll in first grade.
  • When registering your student for school, contact the school to find out what documents are required in addition to those listed in this article.
  • Students with a condition that may require medication or treatment

Full Article

If your child has never enrolled in school, back to school season can be a confusing time. This article answers frequently asked questions about school entrance age, compulsory education, and the enrollment process.  Note that “enrollment” and “registration” are used interchangeably regarding the steps leading up to a student starting school and within the OSPI (Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction) website.

At what age are children required to attend school?

Federal law protects the rights of children and youth to receive a publicly funded education. This is called compulsory education, or compulsory attendance. The age at which a child must begin school varies by state. In Washington state, children must begin attending school full-time at the age of 8 and continue attending regularly until the age of 18 (RCW 28A.225.010).

There are some exceptions to compulsory attendance, including if a child is –

  • enrolled in a private school, extension program, or residential school operated by the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) or the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF).
  • enrolled in home-based instruction that meets State supervision requirements.
  • excused by the school district superintendent for physical or mental incapacity.
  • incarcerated in an adult correctional facility.
  • temporarily excused upon the request of the parents when the excused absences meet additional requirements under Washington state law (RCW 28A.225.010).

Compulsory attendance is required in Washington until the age of 18, unless the student is 16 years or older and meets additional criteria for emancipation, graduation, or certification (RCW 28A.225.010).

At what age can a student begin attending school?

Students with special needs or disabilities may qualify for early education programs. An infant or toddler with a disability or developmental delay receiving early intervention services may be eligible to start preschool between the ages of 3-5 to continue receiving specialized instruction and related services through the public school district until they reach the minimum enrollment age for kindergarten. Washington’s Transition to Kindergarten (TK) program screens 4-year-olds with a birthday by August 31st to identify those in need of additional preparation to be successful in kindergarten.

Parents may choose to enroll a child in kindergarten at 5 years old, if the birthday occurred before August 31st of the same year, but kindergarten is not required under compulsory education. Similarly, a child must be 6 years of age to enroll in first grade.

Families have the right to choose whether to enroll their students in school until the child turns 8 years old and compulsory attendance applies.

How do I enroll my student in school?

If this is the first time your child will attend this school, call the school and ask what you must bring with you to enroll your child and the best time to go to the school for enrollment. Consider that things will be busiest right before the school day starts, during lunch breaks, and as school is ending. Also find out if there is an on-site school nurse and the best time to reach that person.

A parent or legal guardian must go with the student to the school for registration with the required information and documents. According to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI)’s Learning by Choice Guide, most schools require the following at a minimum:

  • Proof of age (e.g., birth certificate or passport).
  • Health history, including name, address, and phone number of child’s doctor and dentist.
  • Proof of residency (e.g., utility bill, tax statement).
  • Parent or guardian’s telephone numbers.
  • Child’s immunization records.

If your child has attended another school, also provide:

  • Withdrawal form or report card from the last school attended.
  • Expulsion statement.

Enrollment for Military-Connected Students

A Washington law passed in 2019 (HB 1210-S.SL, School Enrollment-Nonresident Children from Military Families) allows advance enrollment of children of active-duty service members with official military orders transferring or pending transfer into the state. This means that qualifying children must be conditionally enrolled in a specific school and program and registered for courses. The parent must provide proof of residence within fourteen days of the arrival date listed in the military orders before the school will finalize the enrollment. The address on the proof of residency may be a temporary on-base detailing facility; a purchased or leased residence, or a signed purchase and sale or lease agreement; or military housing, including privatized and off-base housing. The child will be conditionally enrolled and registered for courses.

Schools are responsible for the health and safety of students during all school-related activities. If a student has a condition that may require medication or treatment while at school, Washington state law (RCW 28A.210.320 and WAC 392-380) requires additional steps before the student may begin attending school. The parent or guardian must:

  1. Provide the school with a written prescription and/or treatment plan from a licensed health care provider,
  2. Provide the prescribed medication and/or equipment outlined in the treatment plan, and
  3. Create an Individualized Healthcare Plan with the school nurse.

Schools may develop their own forms, so contact your child’s intended school to get the correct forms and provide complete, accurate information.

Download How to Enroll a Student in School Handout

How to Enroll a Student in School Checklist To download the fillable form and get access to the clickable links, download the PDF

Additional Considerations for Military-Connected Students

Children with parents in the uniformed services may be covered by the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunities for Military Children, also known as MIC3, was created with the hope that students will not lose academic time during military-related relocation, obtain an appropriate placement, and be able to graduate on time. MIC3 provides uniform policy guidance for how public schools address common challenges military-connected students experience when relocating, including several issues related to enrollment. Learn more about how to resolve Compact-related issues with this MIC3 Step-by-Step Checklist.

Families who are new to Washington can learn more about navigating special education and related services in this article, Help for Military Families: Tips to Navigate Special Education Process in Washington State.

Additional Information

Military Interstate Children’s Compact Commission (MIC3), Part 2: Supporting Appropriate Placement and Inclusion of Military Families 

A Brief Overview 

  • This is part of a three-part series on this topic of MIC3, which continues from Military Interstate Children’s Compact Commission (MIC3), Part 1: The Impact of MIC3 on Military Families. The third part of the series is Military Interstate Children’s Compact Commission (MIC3), Part 3: How MIC3 Protects Academic Progress toward Graduation.  
  • MIC3 allows military parents to hand-carry “unofficial” (temporary) school records from the sending school to give to the receiving school for enrollment. 
  • The sending school must provide official records within ten business days of the receiving school’s request. 
  • If students have not been immunized, they have 30 days from enrollment to get the required shots or receive the first shot in a series. 
  • If a child was enrolled and attending kindergarten at the sending school, they must be allowed to enroll and continue at the receiving school, regardless of the school’s age requirement.  
  • A military child can keep going to the school in the school or district they have been attending, even if the person they are living with is in a different school district. 
  • MIC3 allows flexibility concerning extracurricular activities to include military children even if they can’t meet an application deadline. 

Full Article 

The Military Interstate Children’s Compact Commission (MIC3, pronounced “mick three”) is the more commonly used name for the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunities for Military Children. MIC3’s rules provide consistent guidelines for how public schools address the most common challenges military-connected students experience during a PCS (permanent change of station, the military’s term for “relocation”). Washington codified MIC3 into state policy as RCW 28A.705.010.  

Enrollment 

MIC3 seeks to prevent students from losing academic time with enrollment provisions that address: 

  • Unofficial or hand-carried records. 
  • Official records and transcripts. 
  • Immunization requirements. 
  • Kindergarten and first-grade entrance ages. 

Unofficial or Hand-Carried Records 

MIC3 allows military parents to hand-carry photocopied or “unofficial” (temporary) school records from the sending school to give to the receiving school. Waiting for the original official transcripts can be time-consuming and not beneficial to the student since receiving official documentation from another state or overseas can take weeks. Under MIC3, the receiving school must use the unofficial records for the child’s enrollment. The unofficial records must include attendance records, academic information, and grade placement (part of the primary documents package). 

Official Records and Transcripts 

It is the receiving school’s responsibility to immediately request an official set of records (transcripts) from the sending school. The sending school must send out the official records within ten business days, with extensions allowed for school breaks. After school staff return from a break, the official records must be provided within ten business days.  

Immunization Requirements 

If a child hasn’t already had the immunizations (shots to protect against certain diseases) the receiving school requires, the student has 30 days from enrollment to get the shots. If the child needs a series of shots to be immunized, they must get the first shot within 30 days. The school may require a negative test for tuberculosis, which is not an immunization and, therefore, not covered by MIC3. 

Kindergarten and First Grade Entrance Ages 

When enrolling a child in school, MIC3 enables them to enter the grade they were in at the sending school. Suppose a child was enrolled and already attending kindergarten at their previous school. In that case, the new school must allow the child to enroll in kindergarten even if the age requirement differs. Suppose the child should be starting first grade. In that case, MIC3 says that if the child completed the previous grade in the sending school (including kindergarten), they could enroll in the next grade at the receiving school, even if the age requirements differ. The letter or transcript from the sending school must show the child’s attendance in kindergarten if the concerns is about kindergarten eligibility. 

Eligibility 

Regarding eligibility, MIC3 provides guidance on the issues of: 

  • Special power of attorney with guardianship. 
  • Extracurricular activities. 

Special Power of Attorney with Guardianship 

During deployments and other military mobilizations, children of servicemembers may live with another family member, non-custodial parent, or guardian through a Military Family Care Plan. Under MIC3, a military child can keep going to the school in the school or district they have been attending, even if the person they are living with is in a different school district. The school district cannot charge local tuition for living outside the district under these circumstances, except for optional programs offered by the school or district. The person taking care of the child will be responsible for transporting the student to the school while the child resides out-of-district. At enrollment, if not given to the school earlier, the parent or guardian must be provided with the Military Family Care Plan, Special Powers of Attorney, and/or custody orders. 

Extracurricular Activities 

States and local schools can be flexible so military children can be in sports and extracurricular activities, even if the child can’t meet an application deadline, including tryouts, seasonal conditioning, and other prerequisites instituted by the district or team supervisor. The child will still have to meet the eligibility standards for the activity, such as auditioning for sports or a music program. MIC3 requires that school and district programs make “reasonable efforts” to allow military children to participate in extracurricular activities, but this does not include holding open or creating additional spaces. MIC3 does not apply to state athletic associations, like travel teams or sportsman clubs, which are not a part of state or district education systems. 

Support with MIC3-Related Issues 

Parents can use this Step-by-Step Checklist to resolve issues that fall under the provisions of MIC3. For additional support, parents may contact their School Liaison, Parent Center, or MIC3 State Commissioner. As the parent center of Washington State, PAVE provides training to military-connected families, individuals with disabilities, and professionals through the STOMP program. Parents seeking individualized support may contact PAVE through the Get Help Form

Learn More about MIC3 

This article is part of a three-part series on the topic of MIC3. Military Interstate Children’s Compact Commission, Part 1: The Impact of MIC3 on Military Families introduces the scope and purpose of MIC3. This article outlines MIC3’s guidelines for how public schools address challenges related to enrollment and eligibility. Part 3: How MIC3 Protects Academic Progress toward Graduation explores MIC3’s placement, attendance, and graduation provisions. 

Additional Information 

Infant Early Childhood Mental Health

A Brief Overview

  • Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health (IECMH) is a term that describes how young children develop socially and emotionally. They learn about their emotions form close and secure relationships with their caregivers and family members. They learn and explore the environment – all in the context of family, community, and culture.
  • Families concerned about a child’s development can call the Family Health Hotline at 1-800-322-2588, with support in multiple languages. Parents can complete a developmental screening online for free at Parent Help 123.
  • PAVE provides an article for next steps after age 3: What’s Next when Early Childhood Services End at Age 3? Another PAVE article for families new to special education: Steps to Read, Understand, and Develop an Initial IEP.
  • PAVE’s Parent Training and Information (PTI) staff help families understand and navigate service systems for children 0-26. Click Get Help on the PAVE website or call 800-572-7368.
  • Early Support for Infants and Toddlers (ESIT) helps young children with disabilities or delays to learn and supports their unique development.

Full Article

New parents may struggle to know whether their child’s emotional development is on track. They may have a feeling that a milestone is missed, or they may observe siblings or the emotional well-being of other children and notice their child is developing differently. Sometimes a parent just needs reassurance. Other times, a child may have a developmental delay or a disability. In those cases, early support, including Infant Early Childhood Mental Health (IECMH) can be critical to a child’s lifelong learning and development.

IECMH is a term that describes how very young children develop socially and emotionally. They form relationships with other people. They learn about their emotions and how to control them. This happens in the settings of their family, community, and culture. (Zero to Three, Basics of Early Childhood Mental Health, 2017).

According to Best Starts for Kids, relationships are at the heart of human development and thriving for infants, toddlers, and young children. Relationships with parents and caregivers give very young children the social and emotional foundations they need to learn and thrive.

The Washington Health Care Authority reports around 1 in 6 young children has a diagnosed mental, behavioral, or developmental condition (Cree et al., 2018). These conditions may be treated with infant early childhood mental health (IECMH) services.

Services work to improve the quality of the child’s relationship with parents or caregivers. They can:

  • Help the distress of the mental health concern.
  • Support the return to healthy development and behavior.

When families receive Early Support for Infants and Toddlers (ESIT) services for a child, the child is tested as part of an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP).

The evaluation looks at the child’s ability to:

  • Identify and understand their own feelings;
  • Accurately notice and understand other people’s emotional states.
  • Manage strong emotions in a positive way.
  • Control their behavior.
  • Develop empathy (understand how people feel based on the child’s own experience)
  • Make and support relationships.

The evaluation may show the child is not developing well in some of these areas.  IECMH services may help.

Some examples of Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health services include:

  • Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation
  • Parent training
  • Childcare provider training
  • Group training
  • Parent Behavioral Therapy
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Infant/Child – Parent Psychotherapy
  • Play therapy

If you are concerned about a child’s development:

  • To learn about typical development, read the birth-to-6 pre-screening chart in English or Spanish
  • Please Ask is a three-minute video that shows the importance of referring infants and toddlers for early intervention. ESIT is a part if the Department of Children, Youth and Families
  • Families can call the ESIT local lead agency: Local Lead Agencies by County
  • Family Health Hotline: 1-800-322-2588. This statewide, toll-free number offers help in English, Spanish, and other languages.
  • Early Learning Transition: When Birth-3 Services End

More Resources:

Navigating Life After Early Intervention Services

Great takeaways:

  • Get on waitlists and get engaged in community programs!
  • Connect with other parents
  • Grace for yourself & find what works for you!

“Our children are children.  Sometimes they are not ready, and we’re not ready to handle this now.  For example, cold and flu season can be hard to start or add more therapies.  We learned from our wrong turns.”  – Andrea

We hope you found hope, inspiration, and ideas for you, your child, or others you may know. And if you know We hope you found hope, inspiration, and ideas for you, your child, or others you may know.  And if you know of anyone able to donate…any amount – $5, $10, $50.  All donations will help PAVE provide support, training, information, and resources to empower and give voice to individuals, youth and families impacted by disabilities.   Please pass on Arianna & Andrea’s Recipe for Empowerment!

Disability Rights for Littles: Key Information for Families of Babies, Preschoolers, and Primary-School Children

This two-part video series provides information about the rights of babies, toddlers, and young children with developmental delays or disabilities.

Part 1 provides information about early support services for babies through age 3. An interactive exercise is included to help families better understand how to participate in development of functional outcomes as part of the Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP). The video includes information about how early support services are provided and delivered in Washington State and where to begin. Keep in mind that early services are provided in the natural environment—places where babies and toddlers would spend their days if there was no disability.

Part 2 includes information about the transition from early services into preschool and primary school. Families will learn how decisions are made about eligibility for an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and how to participate in educational decision-making for their child. Inclusion in general education is covered, with information about federal requirements for services in the Least Restrictive Environment, to the maximum extent appropriate. The video explains the components of an IEP and provides advocacy tips to support parents and children throughout their educational years.

Families can reach out for individualized assistance from our Parent Training and Information (PTI) staff at PAVE. Click Get Help or call 800-572-7368.

After you view the video, please take a quick moment to complete our survey. Your feedback is valuable!

Long COVID May Cause Disability and Eligibility for Services

Some people infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus experience long-term symptoms—called Long COVID. If lasting symptoms significantly impact a person’s life, their ability to work, or their access to school, disability laws are in place to protect and support them.

Among federal laws that support disability rights are the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (which includes Section 504), and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Note that Part B of the IDEA supports special education services for ages 3-21, and Part C provides early interventions for children birth-3.

Disability protections are also provided by Section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services with the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice provide guidance on the HHS.gov website: Guidance on “Long COVID” as a Disability Under the ADA, Section 504, and Section 1557.

The federal Administration for Community Living (ACL) published a resource that is a place to begin learning about where support is available: How ACL’s Disability and Aging Networks Can Help People with Long COVID. For people whose work is impacted by Long COVID, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy provides information related to job accommodations, employee benefits, worker’s rights, and more.

If a student with Long COVID is impacted, they can be evaluated to determine eligibility for school-based services. For students already identified for school-based services, Long COVID might entitle the student to additional or adjusted services. The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services (OSERS), issued a Fact Sheet July 26, 2021, explaining the rights of children who may have a disability condition related to Long COVID. The rest of this article focuses on protections for children and students.

Section 504 support

Section 504 is part of the Rehabilitation Act and includes protections for individuals accessing a public space, service, or program. A person of any age with a disability has the right to accommodations and modifications if their disability condition significantly impacts a major life activity, such as breathing, walking, learning…. Section 504 guarantees equitable access to opportunities publicly available to people without disabilities. If COVID infection has caused a disability condition because of its lasting impacts, then Section 504 protections may apply.

In school, a Section 504 Plan provides a student with support in general education. Criteria are broad and determined if the student has a disability condition that impacts any aspect of their educational access. If so, the student is eligible for support to meet their needs.

For example, a student with Long COVID might have impacts to their breathing, walking, attention span, or stamina. They may need accommodations for a late start, a shortened school day, a reduced workload, or a place to rest while at school. If mental health is impacted, they may need social-emotional or behavioral supports to continue accessing their general education curriculum and class spaces.

School-based IEP services

If evaluation determines that Long COVID impacts a student (ages 3-21) to such a degree that special education and related services are necessary, then the student may be eligible for an Individualized Education Program (IEP). One eligibility category for IEP services, for example, is Other Health Impairment (OHI). For a full list of eligibility categories see PAVE’s article: IDEA: The Foundation of Special Education.

An educational evaluation determines:

  1. Is there a disability?
  2. Is there significant educational impact?
  3. Does the student require Specially Designed Instruction and/or Related Services?

If Long COVID has created a condition in which all three criteria are met, then the student receives services with an IEP. If the student already has an IEP and a COVID infection has created new barriers to learning, then a new evaluation may be needed to determine what additional services the IEP team can consider.

Here are a few examples of how Specially Designed Instruction (SDI) and Related Services might be included in an IEP to support a student with Long COVID:

  • A teacher provides instruction differently to support a student whose ability to focus is significantly impacted by Long COVID. Progress toward a skill of attention/focus is tracked to see if there is improvement or if something about the teaching strategy needs an adjustment.
  • A teacher helps a student learn emotional coping strategies after Long COVID caused severe anxiety and mood dysregulation. A goal is set to track progress on this social emotional learning (SEL) skill.
  • A physical education teacher provides a specially designed PE program for a student with Long COVID whose symptoms get worse with physical exertion. Goals are set, and progress is monitored. See PAVE’s article about Adapted PE.
  • A student with lingering physical symptoms of COVID receives physical or occupational therapy as a Related Services through the IEP.
  • A student with psychological impacts from the illness receives counseling as a Related Service on the IEP.

Of course, this is a short and incomplete list of possibilities. IEP teams are responsible to develop programming that is individualized to meet a student’s unique and specific needs. Evaluation data is critical in development of the services and programming, and families have the right to request an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) at district expense if they don’t believe the district’s own data is accurate or comprehensive enough to develop an appropriate IEP.

The primary entitlement of a student receiving school-based services is FAPE—Free Appropriate Public Education. FAPE means that services enable progress that is appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances. If Long COVID has disabled a student’s ability to access school appropriately, then they may be entitled to FAPE. The services that provide FAPE are determined individually and by a team that includes family participants.

Early intervention services

Health officials are reporting developmental delays related to COVID infections. Young children, Birth-3, who have been ill with COVID and have ongoing symptoms may be eligible for disability protections from the IDEA Part C, which provides federal funds for early intervention services delivered through an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP). According to the OSERS document about Long COVID:

“A child suspected of having a disability should be referred as soon as possible, but in no case more than seven days, after the child has been identified. With parental consent, a timely, comprehensive, multidisciplinary evaluation must be completed, and if the child is determined eligible, a child and family assessment must be conducted to determine the appropriate early intervention services and supports for the child and family.”

Resources to help you

PAVE provides resource collections to support families of children in various ages and stages:

PAVE’s Family-to-Family Health Information Center (F2F) provides direct assistance for questions related to health and wellness, insurance, and access to medical services. For questions about early intervention or school-based services, our Parent Training and Information (PTI) staff can help. Click Get Help from our home page at wapave.org to request individualized support.

Early Intervention: How to Access Services for Children Birth to 3 in Washington

A Brief Overview

  • Early intervention services help infants and toddlers with disabilities or delays to learn and catch up in their development. This article covers some basics about services for young children in Washington State.
  • Families concerned about a child’s development can call the Family Health Hotline at 1-800-322-2588, with support in multiple languages. Parents can complete a developmental screening online for free at Parent Help 123.
  • Early Learning and Development Guidelines are downloadable from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. Hard copies can be purchased at myprint.wa.gov.
  • PAVE provides an article for next steps after age 3: What’s Next when Early Childhood Services End at Age 3? Another PAVE article for families new to special education: Steps to Read, Understand, and Develop an Initial IEP.
  • PAVE’s Parent Training and Information (PTI) staff help families understand and navigate service systems for children 0-26. Click Get Help at wapave.org or call 800-572-7368.

Full Article

New parents may struggle to know whether their child’s growth and development are on track. They may have a feeling that a milestone is missed, or they may observe siblings or other children learning and developing differently. Sometimes a parent just needs reassurance. Other times, a child has a developmental delay or a disability. In those cases, early interventions can be critical to a child’s lifelong learning.

Seek guidance from a Family Resource Coordinator (FRC)

Washington families concerned about a young child’s development can call the Family Health Hotline at 1-800-322-2588 (TTY 1.800.833.6384) to connect with a Family Resource Coordinator (FRC). Support is provided in English, Spanish and other languages. Families can access developmental screening online for free at Parent Help 123 developmental screening tool.

Several state agencies collaborated to publish Early Learning and Development Guidelines. The booklet includes information about what children can do and learn at different stages of development, focused on birth through third grade. Families can purchase a hard copy of the guidelines from the state Department of Enterprise Services. Order at: myprint.wa.gov. A free downloadable version is available in English and Spanish from OSPI’s website on a page labeled: Early Learning and Development Guidelines.

Washington early services are provided by ESIT

In Washington, the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) administers services for eligible children from birth to age 3 through Early Support for Infants and Toddlers (ESIT). Families can contact ESIT directly, or they can reach out to their local school district to request an evaluation to determine eligibility and consider what support a child might need. The ESIT website includes videos to guide family caregivers and a collection of Parent Rights and Leadership resources, with multiple language options.

Early intervention services are provided in the child’s “natural environment,” which includes home and community settings where children would be participating if they did not have a disability. According to ESIT, “Early intervention services are designed to enable children birth to 3 with developmental delays or disabilities to be active and successful during the early childhood years and in the future in a variety of settings—in their homes, in childcare, in preschool or school programs, and in their communities.”

Early services are delivered through an IFSP

Children who qualify receive services through an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP). The right to an IFSP is protected by Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The IDEA is a federal grant program that provides funding for states to implement early learning and special education programs. Part B of the IDEA protects an eligible school-age student’s right to an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Part A includes general guidance about the educational rights of children 0-21.

Family caregivers, childcare professionals, teachers, or anyone else can refer a child for an early learning evaluation if there is reason to suspect that a disability or developmental delay may be impacting the child’s growth and progress. The school district’s duty to seek out, evaluate and potentially serve infants, toddlers or school-aged students with known or suspected disabilities is guaranteed through the IDEA’s Child Find Mandate.

First Step: Evaluate to determine eligibility

Early intervention is intended for infants and toddlers who have a developmental delay or disability. Eligibility is determined by evaluating the child (with parental consent) to see if the little one does, in fact, have a delay in development or a disability. Eligible children can receive early intervention services from birth to the third birthday. 

After a referral is accepted, a team of professionals uses standardized tools and observations to evaluate a child’s development in five areas:

  1. : Reaching for and grasping toys, crawling, walking, jumping
  2. : Watching activities, following simple directions, problem-solving
  3. : Making needs known, initiating games, starting to take turns
  4. : Vocalizing, babbling, using two- to three-word phrases
  5. : Holding a bottle, eating with fingers, getting dressed

The tools used to evaluate a child provide scores that are compared with the scores of children who are typically developing. Eligibility is met based on one or more of these conditions:

Next Step: Develop a service plan

If an infant or toddler is eligible, early intervention services are designed to meet the child’s individual needs. Options might include, but are not limited to:  

  • Assistive technology (devices a child might need)
  • Audiology or hearing services
  • Speech and language services
  • Counseling and training for a family
  • Medical services
  • Nursing services
  • Nutrition services
  • Occupational therapy
  • Physical therapy
  • Psychological services

Services are typically provided in the child’s home or other natural environment, such as daycare. They also can be offered in a medical hospital, a clinic, a school, or another community space. 

Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP): What is the plan?

The IFSP is a whole family plan, with the child’s primary caregivers as major contributors to its development and implementation. Parents/custodial caregivers must provide written consent for services to begin. In Washington, Family Resource Coordinators (FRCs) help write the IFSP. Team members may include medical professionals, therapists, child development specialists, social workers, and others with knowledge of the child and recommendations to contribute. 

The IFSP includes goals, and progress is monitored to determine whether the plan is supporting appropriate outcomes. The plan is reviewed every six months and is updated at least once a year but can be reviewed at any time by request of parents or other team members. The IFSP includes:

  • The child’s current developmental levels and needs in physical, cognitive, communication, social/emotional, and adaptive areas
  • Family information: resources, priorities, and concerns of parents/caregivers.
  • Major results/outcomes expected from the child and family
  • Specific services:
    • Where services are provided—any services provided outside the child’s “natural environment” of home/daycare/community require a statement explaining the rationale for the placement
    • When the child receives services—the number of days or sessions for each service, and how long each session will last
  • Who pays for the services
  • Name and contact information for the Family Resource coordinator (FRC) responsible for IFSP implementation
  • Steps to begin at age 2.5 to support the child’s transition out of early intervention and perhaps into school-based services.
  • If relevant, additional services or information for the family—such as financial guidance or parenting support

Dispute resolution options are available

If parents have a concern or disagree with any part of the early intervention process, they can contact their Family Resource Coordinator (FRC). If issues remain unresolved, families may choose from a range of dispute resolution options that include mediation, due process, and more. ESIT provides access to a downloadable parent rights brochure with information about dispute resolution options in multiple languages.

Most services are free to families

Washington State provides most early intervention services at no cost to families of eligible children. Some services covered by insurance are billed to a child’s health insurance provider, with the signed consent of a family caregiver. The early intervention system may not use health care insurance (private or public) without express, written consent.

Part C of the IDEA requires states to provide the following services at no cost to families: Child Find (outreach and evaluation), assessments, IFSP development and review, and service coordination.

More resources

  • Learn the Signs. Act Early. The website includes tools for tracking milestones and materials for families to learn more and plan home-based activities to promote skill development. “Early intervention services can change a child’s developmental path and improve outcomes for children, families, and communities,” the CDC encourages. “Help your child, help your family! Families benefit from early intervention by being able to better meet their children’s needs from an early age and throughout their lives.”
  • The Center for Parent Information and Resources (CIPR—ParentCenterHub.org) provides an Overview of Early intervention.
  • The US Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) provides funding for the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center (ectacenter.org), based at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. The center builds state and local capacity to improve outcomes for young children with disabilities and their families.
  • PAVE’s Parent Training and Information (PTI) staff provide information, training, resources, and technical assistance to help family caregivers, students and professionals understand rights and responsibilities within education systems, including those for early learning. For support, complete an online help request at wapave.org or leave a message at the helpline: 1-800-572-7368/press 115.

Child Find: Schools Have a Legal Duty to Evaluate Children Impacted by Disability

A Brief Overview

  • School districts have an affirmative duty to locate, evaluate and potentially serve any infant, toddler or school-aged student impacted by disability under the Child Find Mandate — part of special education law.
  • The duty to evaluate is based on a known or suspected disability that may significantly impact access to learning. Data from evaluation then determines eligibility. Washington’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) has state specific information about Child Find.
  • PAVE recommends making referrals in writing and provides a sample letter.
  • Public school districts provide evaluations and special education services at no cost to the family.
  • Child Find is intact during the pandemic, as are all student rights and protections. For more information, PAVE provides a training video: Student Rights: Special Education During COVID-19 and Beyond.

Full Article

Family caregivers, teachers, or anyone else can refer a child for an educational evaluation if there is reason to suspect that a disability is impacting that child’s ability to learn. The local school district provides a comprehensive evaluation, free to the family, if there is a known or suspected disability and reason to believe that appropriate early learning or school success requires intervention.

The school district’s duty to seek out, evaluate and potentially serve infants, toddlers or school-aged students is guaranteed through the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), as part of the Child Find Mandate. The law says that this obligation to evaluate exists for all children ages 0-21, regardless of whether they:

  • Attend private or public school
  • Are housed in a stable way or are homeless
  • Live with a birth or adopted family or are a ward of the state

Receiving adequate marks and “passing from grade to grade” does not erase the school’s responsibility to evaluate. Impacts to all areas of school and learning are considered. Academic challenges might trigger an evaluation. So can school refusal, communication deficits, missing social skills, trouble with emotional regulation and behavior challenges.

Children in private and home-based schools are protected by Child Find

Parents have the right to request an evaluation from the public-school district regardless of whether a child attends public school. If the child is found eligible, the local district is responsible to provide services unless the family does not want them. In some cases, families arrange to have a child attend private or home-based school but receive special-education services through the public school. Private schools do not have to evaluate children or provide special education, but they are responsible to provide equitable services and to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. See PAVE’s article about navigating private school.

The IDEA includes categories of disability that might qualify a student for special education services at a public school. PAVE has an article about IDEA and additional articles with information about evaluation process.

Request an evaluation in writing

PAVE’s Parent Training and Information (PTI) staff recommend that families request evaluation formally—in writing. Specific deadlines apply in the evaluation process. Washington districts have 25 school days to decide whether to evaluate. After parents sign consent, staff have 35 school days to complete the evaluation.

sample letter to request evaluation is available on PAVE’s website. The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) provides more detail about state requirements. A national agency called Wrightslaw has additional information about Child Find.

The Child Find Mandate requires states to implement programs to locate children who might need more support, particularly those who might need services as infants or toddlers. Child Find is written into the IDEA in “Part C,” which protects children 0-3 with known or suspected disabilities in need of early intervention. However, Child Find applies to all children who might need services—through age 21 or until high-school graduation.

Testing determines whether the child has a disability that is causing learning delays. For very young children, this includes a known or suspected disability that might delay learning. For a child younger than 3 in Washington State, early intervention is provided with an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP). PAVE’s website includes an article with more information about early intervention services and the transition to school-aged services at age 3.

For a child ages 3-21, an evaluation determines whether a disability is significantly impacting access to school and whether specially designed instruction is necessary for the student to access learning at school.

Schools use data to determine whether a child is eligible for services

The duty to evaluate is based on a known or suspected disability that may significantly impact access to learning. Data from evaluation then determines eligibility. Washington’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) has state specific information about Child Find.

The referral process includes a review of existing data about a student. Existing data might include information from families, medical providers and anyone who can discuss a child’s performance at public school, preschool, private school, at home or in another setting. Based on this data, the district decides whether to evaluate. Often the decision is discussed at a “referral meeting” with school staff and parents. If a school district refuses to evaluate, family caregivers can request an explanation in writing and have the right to dispute that decision by exercising Procedural Safeguards.

Child Find requires schools to do outreach

School districts operate Child Find programs in a variety of ways. For example, a school might:

  • Train teachers to recognize signs that a student might need to be screened
  • Publish, post and distribute information for parents so they can understand how to request evaluation and why a child might benefit from services
  • Offer workshops or other trainings to parents about evaluation, early intervention and special education

When should the caregiver for a young child be concerned?

If parents do not think their child is growing or developing like other children the same age, they can request an educational evaluation, even if a pediatrician says there is no cause for concern. The national Center for Parent Information and Resources (CPIR website: ParentCenterHub.org) provides a list of developmental milestones to help parents recognize potential delays.

Early intervention can be critical. Parents can contact their local school district or seek more information and assistance from Early Support for Infants and Toddlers (ESIT), managed by Washington’s Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF).

To determine whether early intervention is needed, an evaluator considers:

  • Physical skills (reaching, crawling, walking, drawing, building)
  • Cognitive skills (thinking, learning, solving problems)
  • Communication skills (talking, listening, understanding others)
  • Self-help or adaptive skills (eating, dressing)
  • Social or emotional skills (playing, interacting with others)
  • Sensory processing skills (handling textures, tastes, sounds, smells)

The evaluator uses natural situations to look at these skills while a child stacks blocks, draws, counts, cuts with scissors, jumps, or performs other activities. Testing time varies, and parents can ask how much time was spent, which settings were reviewed, and who conducted the review.

Parents can decide whether they agree with the results and whether they believe the evaluation was appropriate. “Appropriate evaluation” is protected by special education law, the IDEA, as a primary principle. Parents who disagree with the results of an evaluation—or a school’s decision to not evaluate—have the right to dispute decisions through a variety of informal and formal processes, described in Procedural Safeguards.

Birth-3 services are provided through an IFSP

If an evaluation determines that a child requires early intervention, then those services are provided through an IFSP. Early intervention services might include speech and language therapy; physical therapy; psychological services; home visits; medical, nursing, or nutrition services; hearing or vision services.

In most cases, services are provided in the home or in a child-care setting. The goal is for services to take place in the child’s “natural environment.” Occasionally a child may visit a provider’s office for specialized services.

What does an older child’s evaluation look like?

Educational evaluations for children 3-21 are conducted in consultation with a team that includes parents, teachers, special education professionals and school district administrators and evaluation specialists who can interpret and explain the results.

The assessments can look like academic tests, questionnaires, or informal observations. There are no right or wrong answers, and the evaluators are looking for clues that might show an area of need for different or specialized instruction. A comprehensive evaluation can measure a child’s ability to:

  • Think, reason and problem-solve
  • Understand spoken language
  • Explain ideas and speak clearly
  • Understand facial expressions and body language
  • Use facial expressions and body language to express emotion
  • Remember what they hear and understand different sounds
  • See differences in pictures and designs, remember what they see, and understand those visual images
  • Use body parts with physical skill
  • Get along with other people
  • Read, write, spell, and do math
  • Hear and see

Parents can provide a health history and notes and diagnoses from medical providers that contribute outside information to be considered as part of the assessment.

The Down Syndrome Guild of Greater Kansas City provides a comprehensive list of commonly used assessments for a variety of disability conditions.

Help for children 3-5 years old

Children ages 3-5 with identified disabilities can receive free special education and related services at preschools run by the local public-school district or through federal Head Start or the state-run Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP). Often these preschools are specifically designed for children with disabilities, so inclusion with general education students may be limited.

Once a student enters the local public school for kindergarten, specialized instruction may be provided in general education by special educators who “push in” with support in the classroom. The IDEA requires education in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) to the greatest extent possible with typically developing peers. Special education is a service, not a place: See PAVE’s article with that slogan as its title.

Some children do not thrive in typical classrooms. The IEP team, including the parent, may determine that a smaller classroom or “pull out” instruction is needed for the student to make meaningful progress. These decisions are documented in the IEP.

Related services can support parent training

“Related services” might include speech-language therapy, occupational therapy, mental health counseling or special transportation to school or extracurricular activities. Training about positive behavior interventions for family caregivers, school staff and children also could be provided as a related service. Students who are enrolled in a private or home school may be dually enrolled in public school to access related services provided through an IEP.

During the pandemic, some extra attention has been paid to parent training as a related service in order for parents to understand how to support children learning from home.

What happens if a doctor or teacher refers a child for evaluation?

Any adult knowledgeable about a child’s condition can refer that child for evaluation. If a person outside the family makes the referral, parents get a formal written notification about the referral. Parents must sign consent for an evaluation process to begin.

Parents/guardians do not have to give permission. Parents who refuse to give permission have the right to request an evaluation later.

If school staff refer a student for an evaluation and parents do not want their child evaluated, the school district may ask parents to participate in mediation to further discuss the decision. If parents still refuse to sign consent, a school district can begin a legal procedure called Due Process to have the case considered by an administrative law judge. Through this process, a district may be allowed to screen a child for special education without parent consent.

If a student does not qualify for IEP services, a Section 504 Plan might help

A student who is evaluated and determined ineligible for special education might still qualify for some support with a Section 504 Plan. Section 504 defines disability much more broadly than the IDEA, and a student can qualify for support if an identified disability significantly impacts a major life activity, such as learning or socializing with peers.

Educational evaluations identify barriers to education, so schools can figure out how to help children make meaningful progress. Sometimes special education is provided to help with access to academic learning, and sometimes it is needed for a child to build functional skills or to develop more skill in Social Emotional Learning. When requesting a full and complete evaluation, parents can ask questions and provide feedback to make sure the school evaluates in all areas of suspected disability and that the tools for evaluation are comprehensive and varied.

Sometimes a child comes to the attention of the school because of unexpected behaviors that might lead to disciplinary actions. PAVE’s article, What Parents Need to Know when Behavior Impacts Discipline at School, has additional information for families who might be requesting an educational evaluation because of behavior incidents.

Early Learning Transition: When Birth-3 Services End

The Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) ends when a child turns 3. A transition to a preschool plan with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) requires a new evaluation and is a team-led process:

Planning begins 6-9 months before the third birthday.

  • The Family Resource Coordinator (FRC) schedules a transition conference to design a written Transition Plan.
  • The transition includes an evaluation that is conducted by the local school district and usually begins 2-3 months before the child’s third birthday.
  • If the child is determined eligible, the child will transition from a family-centered program of early learning (IFSP) into a school-based program (IEP).
  • Parent participation is critical: You are an important member of the transition planning team!

To qualify for an IEP, the child must meet evaluation criteria under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Criteria for Birth-3 services (Part C of the IDEA) are slightly different than the criteria for Special Education programming available for ages 3-21 (Part B of the IDEA).

To qualify for an IEP: (1) The student is determined to have a qualifying disability.  (2) The disability adversely impacts education. (3) The evaluation indicates a need for specially designed instruction.

Differences in Eligibility

IDEA Part C
(Also called Early Intervention -IFSP)

IDEA Part B
(Also called Special Education – IEP)
25% or 1.5 SD (Standard Deviation) Below the mean in one area of development – OR- 2 SD (Standard Deviation ) below the mean in one or more areas of development – OR –
Diagnosed physical or medical condition that has a high probability of resulting in delay  1.5 SD below the mean in two or more areas of development

Qualifying Disability Categories for IEP:

  • Developmental Delay (ages 3-8)
  • Specific Learning Disability
  • Intellectual Disability
  • Autism
  • Hearing Impairment
  • Emotional Disturbance
  • Deaf-blindness
  • Multiple Disabilities
  • Orthopedic Impairment
  • Other Health Impairment
  • Deafness
  • Speech/Language Impairment
  • Traumatic Brain Injury

A child who doesn’t qualify for an IEP:

  • May qualify for a Section 504 plan, which provides accommodations under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 when:
    • The disability significantly limits one or more major life activities.
    • The student needs accommodations to access the general education curriculum.
  • May qualify for other services like Head Start, co-operative pre-school, paid pre-school or day care with early achievers, play-to-learn programs, and other early learning opportunities in a community setting.

Use this checklist to help track your family’s transition steps:

6-9 months before the child’s third birthday:

  • The Family Resource Coordinator (FRC) starts talking about transition.
  • The FRC transmits your child’s records to the school system, with your written consent. The most recent IFSP and evaluations/assessments are included.
  • If your child is potentially eligible for Part B services, a transition conference is scheduled.
  • Community resources are located.

Transition Conference:

  • Parent’s rights in special education are explained.
  • Options for early childhood special education and other appropriate services are discussed.
  • A transition time line is developed.
  • A transition plan is written into the IFSP.

Evaluation:

  • If you agree, you sign consent for evaluation.
  • Records from Early Intervention Services are received at the school.
  • Information from the family is considered.
  • Evaluation is completed, and the eligibility meeting is held within 35 school days so that an IEP can be developed before the child’s third birthday.

IEP Meeting:

  • The IEP meeting is scheduled with a formal written invitation with date, time and location.
  • Discussion and decision-making include the family, the FRC (with parent permission), and an early childhood special education staff member.
  • Eligibility for special education is decided.
  • If the child is eligible, the Draft IEP is brought to the team meeting and you will have the opportunity to agree or disagree.
  • You receive a copy of your rights and procedural safeguards.
  • If you agree, you sign consent for services to begin.

The IEP in action:

  • The child makes the transition from Early Intervention to Early Childhood Special Education or another pre-kindergarten arrangement, if chosen.
  • The IEP is in place by our child’s third birthday.
  • The team of professionals and parents continue working together to resolve any issues that arise.
  • All IEP team members communicate during this time of change.

What’s Next when Early Childhood Services End at Age 3?

A Brief Overview

  • Services for families with infants and very young children include family-focused, home-based support. Families are served with an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP). An IFSP ends when the child turns 3.
  • A child who qualifies for an Individualized Education Program (IEP) receives those services at school. Not all children who qualified for an IFSP will quality for an IEP. An IEP is for children ages 3-21, or until high-school graduation.
  • Families may transition from getting in-home help for their child with special needs to participating as members of an IEP team. This can feel like a big change. The information in this article can empower parents.
  • Transition planning starts at least half a year before the child’s third birthday. Providers, teachers, school administrators and the family start thinking and collaborating early about what the child might need to do well.
  • Read on to learn what parents need to know when a young child with special needs makes the transition from Birth-3 services into preschool or another program.
  • A parent-support agency called Informing Families provides a 12-minute video to guide parents through the early-learning transition process. 

Full Article

When a child is born with a disability or the family realizes early that an impairment might impact a young child’s ability to learn and develop at a typical rate, the family can get help from the state. Early Support for Infants and Toddlers (ESIT) is managed by Washington’s Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF).

Services for families with infants and very young children include family-focused, home-based support. When a child is ready to graduate from those early-learning services, the school district determines whether to conduct an educational evaluation to see whether the child qualifies for school-based services. If a child qualifies, the family and school district work together to generate an Individualized Education Program (IEP), which can begin at age 3 in preschool.

A child who qualifies for an IEP receives those services at school. Families transition from getting in-home help for their child with special needs to participating as members of the IEP team. The goals change, and parents help teachers and school staff talk about what the child needs to successfully access school and learning. This transition can be disorienting to some families. Read on for more detail.

Early Intervention can start from birth

Early intervention services are guaranteed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), under “Part C” of the IDEA. The U.S. Department of Education manages a federal grant program under the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) that helps states manage early intervention programs to support infants and young children and their families.

Part C services are available for infants and young children who:

  1. Experience developmental delays, which are medically diagnosed to impact cognitive, physical, communication, social-emotional and/or adaptive skills
  2. Have a diagnosed physical or mental condition that has a high probability of resulting in a developmental delay

Washington’s ESIT program assigns agencies in each county to serve as a “lead agency” to coordinate early learning services and testing. The lead agency works with service providers and the family to review a child’s medical record, discuss any observations by caregivers, and conduct screenings to see what’s going on and whether the issues of concern meet criteria under Part C for early intervention. 

When a child is found eligible for services, a Family Resource Coordinator (FRC) manages the case. The FRC helps to develop an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP). Each plan is unique and may involve individualized instruction, therapy services and supported access to community resources. The plan is designed around the needs of the child and family and is not based on a predetermined program model.

Family-based, early learning services end on the child’s third birthday. A new educational evaluation is required to see whether the student qualifies for an IEP under “Part B” of the IDEA.

Part B services are available for children ages 3-21 (or until high-school graduation) who:

  1. Have a qualifying disability in at least one of 14 federal qualifying categories
  2. Are significantly affected by that disability at school (“Significant Educational Impact” is determined with evidence and data)
  3. Require specialized instruction to overcome the barriers of that disabling condition

To qualify for an IEP under the IDEA, a student meets criteria in one of 14 disability categories

Autism

Deaf-blindness

Deafness

Emotional Disturbance

Hearing Impairment

Intellectual Disability

Multiple Disabilities

Orthopedic Impairment

Other Health Impairment

Specific Learning Disability

Speech / Language Impairment

Traumatic Brain Injury

Visual Impairment/Blindness

Developmental Delay (ages 0-8)

 

Note that the disability category of developmental delay can qualify a child for free, family-focused services to age 3 and school-based, IEP services through age 8.

Helpers get creative during “Part C-to-B Transition” planning

The FRC helps the family and school district get ready. Often this is referred to as “Part C-to-B Transition” planning, so it’s helpful when families understand that Parts C and B come from federal law, the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), designed to ensure that children with disabilities get the help they need to be successful at school and prepared for life.

For families who have received services through the state’s early-learning program (ESIT), Part C-to-B Transition planning starts at least half a year before the child’s third birthday. Providers, teachers, school administrators and the family start thinking and collaborating about what the child might need to do well. The work includes a “Transition Planning Conference,” which happens about 90 days before a child turns 3. The participants at this meeting write a plan for what services or community supports the child might receive. 

Each plan is unique and designed to respond to individual needs. A child’s plan might indicate need for a specific child-care setting or medical-based therapies. The plan might include a referral to a specific, state-funded special-education preschool program through Head Start or the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP, pronounced “E-Cap”). A transition plan also can name local playgroups or parent-support networks to connect the family to community resources. If a child’s educational evaluation has determined that the child is eligible for an IEP, then information about that is included.

Not all children who qualified for early-learning support will qualify for an IEP. Children who are not eligible for IEP services might be eligible to receive accommodations and support through a Section 504 Plan.

Early learning isn’t the only pathway to an IEP evaluation

Children who didn’t receive early-learning interventions can also be evaluated to determine whether they qualify for school-based services that can start as young as age 3 and can continue through age 21, or until a student graduates from high school.

Anyone with concerns about a child can refer the child for an educational evaluation. These referrals usually come from parents, teachers, medical providers or early-learning specialists. When a concerned adult formally requests an evaluation from the school district (best-practice is to make the request in writing), then the district is bound by the IDEA to respond to that request within 25 school days. PAVE provides a comprehensive article about the evaluation process.

The school district has a responsibility under the Child Find mandate of the IDEA to seek out and evaluate children with known or suspected disabilities who may need services. 

When a school district agrees to evaluate, parents sign consent for the assessments to begin. The IDEA requires schools to complete an evaluation within 35 school days. For a child receiving early-learning services, the first IEP meeting is required on or before the child’s third birthday.

Families may invite whomever they want to an IEP meeting. For example, they can invite the Family Resource Coordinator (FRC), a family member, a friend or any other support person. 

If the school district does not conduct an educational evaluation, or if the evaluation indicates that the child doesn’t qualify for school-based, IEP services, parents have the right to disagree with the school’s decision. The family can request a written statement that describes the school district’s position, with any information or data that was used to justify the decision.

Parents have rights to disagree through a variety of dispute engagement options. PAVE provides comprehensive articles about evaluation, IEP process and Procedural Safeguards, Student and Parent Rights.

PAVE’s Parent Training and Information (PTI) center provides technical assistance and can help parents understand how to participate in their child’s learning. Got to: wapave.org/get-help or call (253) 565-2266, 1-800-5-PARENT ext.115

The Arc of Washington hosts local Parent-to-Parent (P2P) programs across the state. Families can request a “support parent match” to talk with another parent who has already navigated this process. Visit Arcwa.org for more information.

Additional Resources:
Informing Families – informingfamilies.org
Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) – k12.wa.gov   
OSPI Early Childhood services –  k12.wa.us/Specialeducation/earlychildhood
Early Intervention Resources in English and Spanish – ParentCenterHub.org
Washington State Department of Children, Youth, and Families – dcyf.wa.gov

If you are concerned about a child’s development:

Benefits of Providing Early Intervention in the Natural Environment

Importance of a Natural Environment

As the Program Director of the Early Intervention Program at HopeSparks Family Services in Tacoma, I am frequently asked why we spend time and money providing services in a child’s home, rather than having families bring children to a clinic setting.  One reason is that it is the law, but more importantly, providing services at home or community settings where the child lives, learns, and plays, strengthens the capacity of the family in supporting their child’s development.  By incorporating therapeutic and educational activities into the family’s daily routine (mealtime, bath time, play, story time), we are able to support that child and parent in the moment, to reflect on what is working and what is not working within the family’s social and cultural network.  Parents often describe this experience as empowering, providing them the knowledge that they can carry out strategies when the therapists and educators are not available.

As a Speech-Language Pathologist, I have worked in clinical, medical, classroom, and home settings.  When working with children birth to three-years-old, no matter the setting, I invite families to sit on the floor with their child and teach through play.  When we are in the child’s home, I can use materials available to that child and parent all the time.  I am aware of challenges that may exist and I am able to work through those challenges with the parent in the comfort of their home and community. During a recent session with a 2-year-old, I was privileged to work with the child’s mother, maternal grandmother, and paternal grandmother and show all three of them strategies for eliciting language.  During the following session, the maternal grandmother commented on how she was able to follow the steps and get the same response from her grandson and she couldn’t believe how easy it was.

Traveling to homes, parks, and other community settings is not easy, but it is well worth it when we see families succeed in supporting their children and saying, “I can do this”, every day.  I feel honored to be invited into the homes and communities of the families we serve and, after experiencing the enormous benefits, I would not want it to be any other way.

Rachael Gray, M.S., CCC-SLP
Program Director
Early Intervention Program
HopeSparks Family Services
P 253-565-4887;  F 253-565-2983
www.HopeSparks.org