Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) stipulates that states must provide Early Intervention programs for children with disabilities/delays birth to age three and their families. Once a child qualifies (criteria vary from state to state, usually, the presence of a significant hearing loss is enough to qualify a child for Part C EI services), the services he and his family receive are governed by an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP). One aspect of Part C is the idea that services should be delivered in the “natural environment” of the child. Usually, this means that therapists come to the child’s home, but it may also mean daycare, a relative’s house, or another community setting — whatever is “natural” for the child and the family.
With Universal Newborn Hearing Screening in the United States, children with hearing loss are being identified younger and younger, sometimes within a day of their birth. For many families, Part C Early Intervention services are their introduction to the world of having a child with hearing loss. Often, early interventionists serve a key role in introducing parents to hearing loss, helping them cope with identification and treatment issues, and encouraging healthy bonding with their baby. If all goes well, a family’s first introduction to special education services may very well be a rosy picture of caring therapists showing up on the family’s doorstep to guide and coach parents to teach their children to listen and talk.
This all changes at age three. From ages 3-21, the child falls under Part B of IDEA — the world of school programs, Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), and preparation for transition to post-secondary education and/or work. Being thrust from a comfortable home environment to the world of “big kid school” need not be a scary process, though. EI professionals should begin transition planning with parents months before the child’s third birthday (different states have different regulations as to when transition planning should begin) and, with proper information and support, turning three should mark an exciting milestone in your child’s progress to communication, education, and independence.
Here are a few links to free online “workbooks” for parents regarding the transition process. While some include state-specific information, many of the activities, checklists, and informative articles included in the booklets apply to parents throughout the US.
When I’m Three, Where Will I Be? Illinois-specific information, but excellent, parent-friendly graphics and articles that would be helpful to parents from any state. Highly recommend.
- Bridge to Preschool: Navigating a Successful Transition Colorado-specific information, also targeted specifically for transition of students with hearing loss. Great chart starting on pg. 6 comparing Part C to Part B services.
Early Intervention Transition New Jersey-specific information. Starting on pg. 9, booklet has a great child profile for parents to complete to give the evaluation team a big-picture view of the child’s preferences, strengths, weaknesses, skills, abilities, and needs.
Transition to Preschool California-specific. Discusses how parents can evaluate whether or not a program is “developmentally appropriate” (and what that term means) starting on pg. 9.
What are some pitfalls to avoid during Transition? Here are a few off of the top of my head, but I’m sure parents and professionals reading this site will have many more to add — please comment and add your own advice.
More is not always better. It’s tempting to want your child to have every possible service, every professional consult, every bell and whistle and gadget and gizmo out there, but remember, if your end goal is that your child will function independently in a listening and speaking world, that starts now, even at age three. Encourage independence whenever possible. Give your child a chance to be stretched and to try something new. If you over-help, you’ll never know the child’s true capabilities. (Conversely, know the difference between pushing your child to grow and setting him up to fail — aim for the “just right challenge”)
“That’s all we have, so that’s what you’ll get” is not a valid offer. If “all we have” is not free and appropriate for your child, it’s not acceptable. The IEP team meeting is supposed to be just that — a TEAM meeting. As a parent, you are an important member of that team and have a right to have your opinions taken into account (Conversely, don’t be adversarial or argumentative. Be calm and assertive, not annoying. Most school personnel mean well, even if it doesn’t seem like it at times. Build positive, collaborative relationships and don’t burn any bridges — you might be dealing with this district for years to come, so start out on the right foot!)
Remember that your goals determine the services needed, not the other way around. Think big-picture about what you want your child to be able to do, and work from there to determine what steps you need to take to get there.