In Mississippi, children under three years of age who have developmental delays may be eligible for early-intervention services through the state's First Steps program. The program is administered by the State Department of Health. These five steps can help you find out about how early intervention works in Mississippi and get your child started with needed services and supports.
1. Consult with your pediatrician. According to the referral form on the Department of Health site, a provider such as your pediatrician can refer a child for early intervention because of a genetic disorder, congenital/neonatal disorder, neuromuscular disorder, suspected developmental delay, orthopedic impairment, autism, traumatic brain injury, seizure disorder, hearing impairment, vision impairment, troubled birth history, exposure to toxic substance, or other reasons. Your doctor should be knowledgeable about these requirements and able to make the referral to First Steps. The importance of early intervention and the availability of these services is a good reason to urge your doctor to move past the "wait and see" phase and toward an identification of problems and needed therapies.
2. Call your local department of health office to request early-intervention services for your child, if your doctor or another professional has not done this for you. You might also contact the Mississippi Parent Training and Information Center (MSPTI) to talk to a parent educator about what you need to know to successfully advocate for your child, in early intervention and beyond.
3. Your child will be evaluated by a team including speech, physical, and occupational therapists to develop an Individualized Family Services Plan (IFSP) that determines the services your child will receive and where they will be delivered. Your goals and wishes should also be considered in the development of the plan, and you may be asked to fill out forms or attend interviews. To educate yourself about the IFSP process and what it involves in Mississippi, read the "Family Rights Notice" from the Department of Health site and "The Early Intervention/IFSP Process" from the National Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center.
4. When you receive the IFSP, review it to make sure you agree with the services specified and the site at which they will be delivered. Your consent is required before the services can be delivered, and you have a right to turn down anything you disagree with or back out of the program altogether. According to the MSPTI page on early intervention, services provided in the IFSP may include speech therapy, physical therapy, and occupational therapy. Therapies should be provided in a natural environment, which may include your home or a day-care center your child attends. Ask questions and make sure you understand everything mentioned in the IFSP before giving your consent.
5. Service providers will be assigned to your child, and you can find out more about them through the state directory of providers downloadable from the Department of Health site. Collaborate with the therapists who will be working with your child, sharing insights from your experience and asking for suggestions on how you can continue the work your child is doing at home between sessions.