In North Carolina, children under three years of age who have developmental delays may be eligible for early-intervention services through the state's Infant and Toddler Program (ITP). The program is administered by the Early Intervention Branch (NCEI) of the state's Division of Public Health. These five steps can help you find out about how early intervention works in North Carolina and get your child started with needed services and supports.
1. Consult with your pediatrician. To be eligible for early intervention in North Carolina, your child will need to have a specific measurable delay in cognitive development, physical development (including fine and gross motor function), communication development, social-emotional development, and/or adaptive development, or an established condition that is likely to result in a developmental delay, including congenital anomaly, congenital infection, autism, attachment disorder, hearing loss, visual impairment, neurologic disorder, and neonatal conditions. For a complete description of all eligibility criteria, read "New Eligibility Definition for the NC Infant Toddler Program," downloadable from the ITP site. Your doctor should be knowledgeable about these requirements and able to make the referral to ITP or give you the information necessary to do so. 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. Contact the Children's Developmental Services Agency (CDSA) in your area to refer your child to the ITP, if your doctor or another professional has not done this for you. You can find contact information by searching for your county in the "Find Your CDSA" search box at the top of the page on the ITP site, or on a downloadable brochure. You will need to provide your child's name, date of birth, address, telephone number, your name, and the reason you feel your child needs the program. While you're getting started with early intervention, you might also contact the Exceptional Children's Assistance Center (ECAC) 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 North Carolina, read the "North Carolina Infant-Toddler Program Parent Handbook," "Notice of Parental Rights," and pages from the Infant Toddler Program Manual downloadable from the ITP site, including pages on eligibility determination, evaluations and assessments, and IFSPs; "Five Steps to Becoming Your Infant or Toddler's Best Advocate" and "All About Me Toolkit" downloadable from the ECAC 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 ITP's program manual pages on the subject, services provided in the IFSP may include assistive technology, audiological services, rehabilitative services, family counseling, medical services, nursing services, nutrition services, speech therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, psychological services, respite services, transportation, and vision services. Therapies should be provided in a natural setting, 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. When service providers are assigned to your child, collaborate with these professionals, sharing insights from your experience and asking for suggestions on how you can continue the work your child is doing at home between sessions.