Early Intervention Services for Children with Visual Impairments
Infants begin learning about the world around them almost immediately. When a child is unable to gather information through his sense of sight, it’s essential to help him get that information in other ways. The sooner he can get some assistance with his explorations, the sooner his growth, development, and learning can be encouraged—this is why early intervention is so important for infants who are visually impaired.
When you received word that your child was visually impaired, you may have thought, “What does this mean for my child? How will this affect my child’s development? And what do I need to do now?” Early intervention services can provide some answers.
What Is Early Intervention?
The term “early intervention” has a literal meaning—intervening in a child’s development to provide support at an early time in his or her life. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), infants and toddlers with disabilities who are eligible for early intervention, and their families, can receive early intervention services from the time the child is born until his third birthday. The rules governing early intervention programs are found in a section of IDEA known as Part C, so you may hear them referred to as “Part C programs.”
An effective early intervention program can help meet a child’s needs in five primary areas:
- Developing ideas, concepts, and knowledge
- Physical development
- Social and emotional development
- Adaptive development
How Do I Find Early Intervention Services?
Early intervention programs are run under the auspices of each state, but the agency in charge varies; therefore, the easiest place to start looking for early intervention services may be your local school district. Under IDEA Part C, each state designates a lead agency in charge of early intervention services for infants and toddlers and their families. These agencies—often referred to as “Part C agencies”—vary from state to state and may be part of any one of the following state departments:
- Human services
You can contact any of these departments in your state for information about the Part C agency, or you can go to the Find Services tool on this website. A parents’ organization such as the National Association for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments (NAPVI) can also help you to locate the appropriate agency.
In recognition of the importance of intervening on behalf of a child as early as possible, IDEA also requires states to conduct a process known as “Child Find.” This is intended to identify, locate, and evaluate all children with disabilities from birth to age 21, to determine which ones are in need of early intervention or special education services. Your state’s Child Find agency may not be the same as the Part C agency. In general, the Child Find agency may be the local education agency or local school district operating under your state department of education. You can contact either your local school district office or Part C agency to get information and begin the early intervention process.
Who Is Eligible for Early Intervention?
To determine if your child is eligible for early intervention services, contact your state’s Part C agency or a Child Find agency such as the local school district. Each state is permitted to establish its own eligibility criteria for IDEA Part C early intervention services, but must include eligibility for children who are in either of the following two categories:
1. A child who is experiencing a percentage (as determined by each state) of developmental delay, as measured by appropriate diagnostic instruments and procedures, in one or more of the following areas:
- Cognitive development;
- Physical development, including vision and hearing;
- Communication development;
- Social or emotional development; or
- Adaptive development
2. A child who has a diagnosed physical or mental condition that has a high probability of resulting in developmental delay.
States can also include a child who is considered “at risk” for developmental delay.
Services for the Entire Family
A baby’s needs cannot be separated from the needs of his or her family. For this reason, early intervention services are designed to help your family to feel comfortable and confident as you raise your child. Additionally, because parents are their child’s best teachers, it is important for you to be involved in all the services your baby receives. You can continue working with your child at home to reinforce lessons and skills that the early intervention team members may have introduced.
Early intervention services start with an assessment to determine your child’s needs and what type of help you want for you and your child. Early intervention programs employ a variety of professionals, including early interventionists and others and provide a variety of services. Most important is that a key member of the team that works with you and your child is trained in the needs of young children who are visually impaired—most likely a teacher of students with visual impairments. Services may be provided in your home, at a school or other location in the community, or both.
What Types of Services Can I Request?
A wide range of services may be provided through an early intervention program, including
- Assessment and planning, including the development of an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP)
- Audiological services
- Vision services including orientation and mobility (body awareness and travel skills)
- Occupational and physical therapy
- Speech and language therapy
- Special instruction services
- Medical and nursing services
- Psychological and social work services
- Health services necessary for the child to benefit from other early intervention services
- Family training, counseling, and home visits
- Transportation to enable the child and family to receive early intervention services
Learn More About Early Intervention
The “Babies and Toddlers” section offers more detailed information on early intervention services and how you can be an effective advocate for your child.