In Louisiana, children under three years of age who have developmental delays may be eligible for early-intervention services through the state's EarlySteps Early Intervention System. The program is administered by the Office for Citizens With Developmental Disabilities of the state's Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH). These five steps can help you find out about how early intervention works in Louisiana and get your child started with needed services and supports.
1. Consult with your pediatrician. To be eligible for early intervention in Louisiana, a child must be found to have a developmental delay or a diagnosis that makes such a delay likely. Your doctor should be knowledgeable about these requirements and able to make the referral to EarlySteps 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 or e-mail EarlySteps to request help for your child, if your doctor or another professional has not done this for you. You can find the contact information for the office for your region on the Early Steps System Point of Entry (SPOE) list on the DHH site. 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 might also contact the Louisiana Parent Training and Information Center 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 Louisiana, download the EarlySteps Manual from the DHH 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 EarlySteps site, services provided in the IFSP may include assistive technology, audiology, health services, nutrition services, occupational therapy, physical therapy, psychological services, social work, special instruction, speech therapy, translation interpreter services, 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. Service providers will be assigned to your child, and you can find out more about them by searching the matrix on the Louisiana Part C Early Intervention 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.