This year, I took on a few Early Intervention cases while I built my private tutoring practice. I quickly found the challenge of working with little ones who have needs – but may not have a diagnosis – to be incredibly rewarding. By the time a child is in pre-school or elementary school, they will typically have a diagnosis. That diagnosis guides practitioners in planning instruction and modifications to support the child’s learning. A special education teacher receives the Individual Education Plan (IEP), sees the classification, and instantly knows how to start managing the classroom to meet that child’s needs. But in Early Intervention, providers have to work without such guidance. They rely instead of indicators such as language delay without knowing whether it is a language delay due to autism or apraxia.
Understandably, parents have lots of questions about how they can best support their child. As a home-based provider you are the first professional emerging to support this young child’s learning. It was through my Early Intervention work that I realized I really enjoy working with the parents. Teaching them how to advocate for their child was almost as enjoyable as the hands-on time with the child. I realized the lessons I was sharing with my Early Intervention families would help more families. And thus, I present Three Early Intervention Advocacy Lessons that Can Help All Parents.
Lesson 1. Be pleasantly persistent.
I’ve watched multiple families go through the transition from Early Intervention to Committee for Preschool Special Education (CPSE). The process is quite involved. Parents begin by making appointments for evaluations, take children to complete evaluations at a variety of locations, wait for the reports to come in, then finally setting up and attending meetings with the school district to determine the child’s preschool placement.
One family was given the run around on scheduling the meeting with the school district. This meeting was crucial as it would determine which schools would receive the student’s info, and it was not a student that would be well served in most placements. Mom was “pleasantly persistent”, and called very frequently on my recommendation. She got her meeting within days and inched closer to getting her child into the best program for their needs.
How does this lesson translate to all parents? If you aren’t getting the answer you need – whether you have concerns about your child’s academic or social progress – keep at it. Email is excellent for being pleasantly persistent because not only can you take your time in composing the email, but you also have proof of every attempt you’ve made to communicate. This can be very important in the future.
Lesson 2. Keep your documents organized
It’s helpful to get a binder to keep your evals and documents organized as they come in. Being able to flip through your documents when you talk to a professional (e.g. a developmental pediatrician) or a provider is so helpful and saves everyone time. I often attend meetings with parents who don’t have all of their paperwork. I can even own up to being that parent on occasion myself! But there is no doubt: having all the paperwork easily at hand and organized sends a message to the district that this is a parent on the top of their game. That’s the image we’re striving for.
Lesson 3. Make an appointment with a developmental pediatrician.
The majority of children receiving Early Intervention support do not have a diagnosis. The catch-22 is that some of those same kids will need a diagnosis to get into the schools that will best meet their needs. For example, a student who needs a specialized autism program won’t get that support without an autism diagnosis. But how does a parent know that without a developmental pediatrician weighing in? In addition to a diagnosis, all parents of school aged children exhibiting difficultly at school would benefit from a developmental pediatrician’s professional opinion.
Now, the tricky part many parents don’t realize is that a doctor’s diagnosis is not always enough. It does not automatically mean the school has to classify the student and provide special education services. If a developmental pediatrician diagnoses your child with autism – but they’re doing fine academically – the school may decide they don’t meet the criteria for special education at this time. Many parents don’t realize this.
But, overall, when your child is having difficulty in school, visiting a developmental pediatrician is a good idea. More data outlining the reasons for your child’s struggles will strengthen your case for services. Call early and be prepared to wait a few months for your appointment. Developmental pediatrician waits can be six months or more!
Effective advocacy yields results.
These Three Early Intervention Advocacy Lessons can extend to all parents trying to learn the system so as to help their child. Got more tips to share? Comment below on your own personal tried and true tips for navigating the system!