In Massachusetts, children under three years of age who have developmental delays may be eligible for early-intervention services through Massachusetts Early Intervention. The program is administered by the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS). These five steps can help you find out about how early intervention works in Massachusetts and get your child started with needed services and supports.
1. Consult with your pediatrician. According to the EOHHS site, your child under three years old may be eligible for early intervention in Massachusetts if he or she "is not reaching age-appropriate milestones in one or more areas of development; is diagnosed with a physical, emotional, or cognitive condition that may result in a developmental delay; [or] is at risk for developmental delay due to various biological and/or environmental factors." Your doctor should be knowledgeable about these requirements and able to make the referral to Massachusetts Early Intervention 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. Call Massachusetts Early Intervention to request help for your child, if your doctor or another professional has not done this for you. The phone number is 1-800-905-8437 (1-800-905-TIES), and the staff member who answers should be able to get you started in applying to the program or answer any questions you or your family members may have about it. You can also download a brochure about early intervention or go to the site Family Ties of Massachusetts, find an early-intervention provider near you, and apply to that provider directly. You might also contact the Parent Leadership Project to talk to a parent educator about what you need to know to successfully advocate for your child in early intervention.
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 Massachusetts, read "Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) Development" on the EOHHS site and download an IFSP Guidance booklet as well as documents on Family Rights and Due Process. Also of interest may be the download "The Early Intervention/IFSP Process" from the National Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center. Wondering what an IFSP will look like? Download a sample form from the EOHHS site.
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 Parent Leadership Project site, services and supports provided in the IFSP may include home visits, community child groups, EI only child groups, parent groups, specialty services, extended services for children with medically complex needs, and transportation. 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. Service providers will be assigned to your child, and you can find out more about them through the listings at Family Ties of Massachusetts. Collaborate with the professionals 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.