What to Do If Your Family Has Been Denied Early Intervention Services
You, as a parent, know that your young child could use a boost in his or her language development, but your local Early Intervention (EI) program has deemed your child not sufficiently delayed to warrant funded therapy services. So what do you do now that you’ve been denied Early Intervention Services? This is an agonizing question to have to face. Unfortunately, as a consequence of the 2008-2009 financial crisis, many states sharply cut back on available funds for EI. I thought this was a terrible decision. What better investment in society is there than in the very young? And the research is strong and clear: intervening early in a child’s development can have an outsized impact on their overall development.
In many cases, the investments local governments have made in their EI programs have actually saved a lot more than was initially invested, in terms of reducing the need for medical care or special education services later in that child’s life. And while the picture has improved somewhat as the economy has showed signs of recovery, still, far too many children in need of services, in my opinion, are not receiving them. This post is dedicated to providing actionable advice for parents on what to do in the event of Early Intervention ineligibility, especially when your gut tells you that something still needs to be done.
Consider Appealing your Early Intervention Decision
If your child’s speech and language development was deemed “borderline below the normal range” or even “below the normal range,” but he or she was denied services, my first recommendation is to consider an appeal. To provide an example, the New York City EI program manual states,
you (the parent or caregiver) have the right to use due process procedures if your child is not found eligible for early intervention services.
This means that you may appeal a decision you disagree with. I would likely recommend against appeal if your child’s standardized test scores from the language evalution place your child at or above the average range; an appeal is likely not worth your time. However, as I mentioned above, if this “no” determination was borderline, I would fight it.
Consider hiring an experienced special education attorney. Although this is potentially a significant extra expense, an attorney often pays enormous dividends in getting the services ultimately approved; this investment may very quickly pay itself back in the services your child may receive. An excellent—though at times intimidating—resource on education law is wrightslaw.com. Their Yellow Pages for Kids is also an exhaustive state-by-state resource for landing an attorney or other allied professional.
Whether you decide to appeal a denial of EI services or not, it is a good idea to initiate services as soon as possible. Unfortunately, just because EI standards have tightened does not mean that your child isn’t in need of services. Very generally speaking, if your child’s total language score came in “below the average range” or “borderline below the average range,” then it would be a good idea to consult with a local speech-language pathologist (SLP). This standard would equate, in number terms, to approximately up to the 40th percentile, to be conservative. The best place to search great local SLPs is the Speech Buddies network of therapists. Simply input your zip code and your child’s age and you will be given a comprehensive list of choices of licensed SLPs who stand ready to serve your family. Often, a therapist will be happy to answer questions you may have, based on your EI language evaluation. This therapist can help you determine whether and what amount of services would be indicated for your child.
Educate Yourself on Speech & Language Development
Another great way to help your child is to become educated on child language development. A wonderful place to start is a blog post I wrote not too long ago that outlines very generally what is expected of your child in terms of language development, from birth to age 3. I would also recommend reading your child’s evaluation report very carefully. Don’t be shy about scheduling a follow-up phone call with your evaluator. Ask him or her about everything that you’d like clarified. Also ask about how this could be correlated with future academic and social development. For example, it has been shown that visual attention challenges in the early intervention age group is linked to a later diagnosis of dyslexia, or a difficulty decoding and processing written language. The more educated you become, the more empowered you will be to foster your child’s language development.
Put a plan into action and stick to it. Once you’ve educated yourself on the critical issues surrounding language development, be proactive in stimulating language in your child. Here are some language learning activities, from a previous post, to get started with. Also, ask your therapist about not only therapy strategies but also recommended materials for stimulating language in your young child.
Rely on you own instincts as a parent; you know your child best and don’t be shy about using this knowledge to your child’s advantage. In general, let your child choose and lead the play activities. Toddlers tend to be egocentric and affording them some control is a great way to facilitate robust language from him or her. The bottom line is: while a denial of services can be discouraging, it is still simply the beginning of your family’s journey to boost your child’s language development. The tips highlighted above should serve as a helpful guide as your undertake this process. Best of luck, and always err on the side of reaching out: to your child’s teachers, a local SLP, even a friend or family member. You’ll be surprised where kernels of wisdom can come from.