Early intervention for babies and toddlers

toddlerDon’t delay with delays

If you suspect that your baby or toddler (up to age 3) is delayed in reaching typical developmental milestones, this blog post will tell you how to get help for her. In most cases, this help is free! In another post I will tell you what to do for children ages 3 and older.

Every baby develops at her own pace. Some walk or talk early – some later. But, often babies don’t seem to develop as expected. Sometimes we know the reason why, and sometimes we don’t. If your baby seems to be delayed in reaching her developmental milestones, such as rolling over, sitting, crawling or talking, it is best to get help for your child as soon as possible. Every day is important in your child’s development.

What should you do first?

First, speak with your baby’s health care provider about your concerns and ask about early intervention services. These services may help her catch up or get on the right track. Some examples of early intervention services may include speech or physical therapy, or even a specialized preschool program. It is different for each child.

Where do you find early intervention services?

Fortunately, there is a federally funded early intervention program in the United States.  It addresses issues in the following areas: communication (speech), physical development or motor skills, social and emotional development, adaptive development (self help skills) and cognitive development (thinking, learning, reasoning). The CDC’s campaign Learn the Signs. Act Early.  encourages parents to get help as early as possible if your baby or toddler is not on schedule for reaching her developmental milestones.

If you (or your baby’s health care provider) feel that there may be a developmental delay, disability or other health problem, you should contact your state’s early intervention program as soon as possible. They will then conduct an evaluation and assessment free of charge. You can read more about the importance of developmental screening on the CDC’s factsheet.

How do you find your state’s local program?

• The National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (NICHCY) provides a wealth of information, including agencies, organizations and support groups, that address disability-related issues in children. You can find their information at The Center for Parent Information and Resources’ (CPIR) website.


• Call your state’s early intervention office directly. Find your state’s office at the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center (ECTA)  or on the CDC’s site.

If your baby meets the criteria, she may be able to receive speech therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, nutritional services, as well as other kinds of help, depending on her needs.

If your child needs services, who pays for them?

Each state is responsible for implementing its own early intervention program. In all states, the expenses for the evaluation, assessment and development of a plan are free to you. Usually, most or all of the therapies are also free, but it varies from state to state. Go to the ECTA site, click on your state, and contact the agency directly to find out what your state covers, and how your state defines “developmental delay. The good news is that a child should not be denied services based on a family’s inability to pay.

The Bottom Line

Having a baby is a wonderful adventure. But, as with any adventure, there are ups and downs. Sometimes babies or young children don’t seem to develop as you would expect. If you suspect that your baby is not on track, take that first step and determine if she needs a little help. By getting help early, you are giving your baby the best possible start in life. It is easy and the evaluation is free. What better gift could you give your child?

Note:  This post appears in the series Delays and disabilities – how to get help for your child.