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What is Early Intervention?

Editor's note: Autism and ASD are used interchangeably in this article.

If a screening or concern shows that a child is at risk for a developmental disorder, he should be referred to the state early intervention (EI) program.

What is Early Intervention (EI)?

The EI Program is a federal grant program run by individual states under Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act that works with children ages 0-3. Also called the "Program for Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities," EI targets children who show a delay in cognitive, social, or communication skills. These children may also have a delay in physical or motor abilities or self-care skills.

Who Can Refer a Child to EI?

Anyone can refer a child to EI, including:

  • Pediatricians
  • Parents
  • Grandparents
  • Child care providers

The child does not even need a diagnosis. The EI program's team of specialists will test and evaluate the child to see if he qualifies for the program.

Individualized Family Service Program (IFSP)

If, after the initial evaluation, a child is eligible for the EI program, you will receive an Individualized Family Service Program (IFSP), which explains the services recommended for your child and how EI will help you and your family support your child.

The IFSP will:

  • Describe your child's current developmental levels
  • Ways to improve your child's development
  • Outcomes you can expect
  • Outline the specific services that you and your family will receive
  • Goal dates for starting and ending services

In addition, the IFSP will provide information on how EI will help the child and family transition to school services when the child turns three. The IFSP should be developed with the family's values in mind and be supportive of the family's routine and priorities.

EI Service Providers

Service providers in an EI program include many types of professionals such as:

  • Social workers
  • Speech therapists
  • Occupational therapists (Ots)
  • Physical therapists (PTs)​
  • Registered dietitians
  • Developmental therapists
  • Psychologists

Services may be provided in your home or in the community.

Paying for EI

Payment for EI services varies from state to state. Nevertheless, all states must provide at least some services free of charge.

Experts agree that EI is an essential component in the early treatment of autism and other developmental problems. The program has shown to be beneficial to socially disadvantaged children who do not have an ASD and often leads to less need for special education services for those children later on. Early intervention also helps overall family function and improves outcomes for children who have a biologically based disorder such as an ASD.

Additional Information

You can get information about your state's EI program from your pediatrician, the state health department, or the local school district. You can also find information on the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center Web site at

Last Updated
Adapted from Autism Spectrum Disorders: What Every Parent Needs to Know (Copyright © American Academy of Pediatrics 2012)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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