Early Childhood Transition Timeline
A timeline to transition young children with delays from diagnosis to kindergarten
If you think your child has a delay or a disability, it can feel overwhelming. You may be wondering if your baby is behind in hitting their developmental milestones and you’re not sure how to figure this out. Maybe your child has a new diagnosis and you are learning about a whole new world of services and systems. Maybe your child is almost 5 and you are worried about whether they are ready for kindergarten.
Exceptional Lives is here to help.
This timeline will walk you through every age and stage of early childhood so you can help your child (and your family) get the right support at the right time.
A note about this timeline: it was developed for families in the state of Louisiana. The language and terminology may be different if you are not in Louisiana, but the process is almost exactly the same no matter where you are.
Identify your child’s disability and find support
Learning that your child has a disability is a big deal! Maybe you are just starting to worry about your child’s development or learning, or maybe you have a diagnosis already. Either way, and no matter how old your child is, here’s where to start.
Get developmental assessments
As soon as you notice that your child’s development may not be typical, you need to get some assessments from your pediatrician to find out if they have a developmental delay or another kind of disability. Ask for a developmental screening and any other tests your doctor suggests. If your child has not had autism screenings, you can do those too.
Note that screenings are just to see if your child is likely to have a certain condition. To find out for sure, you must do a full developmental evaluation. The EarlySteps team (called Early Intervention in many states), and then later the school, will do its own assessments to see if your child qualifies. But if you have reports from medical providers it will help the process.
Most kids who need special education have developmental delays or disabilities rather than physical ones. This means they are not developing the skills that most kids their age have learned.
Apply for EarlySteps (Early Intervention)
Early Steps is a program for kids ages 0-3 who have developmental delays. It provides support services like speech therapy, occupational therapy (OT) or physical therapy. These are done in your child’s natural environment like their home or daycare. If you have not applied for this program and your child is less than 2 and a half, then call the office to start the process and see if they qualify. Learn more about Early Intervention.
Connect with support organizations and people who “get it”
It also helps to just connect with other families who face similar challenges. Whether they are online or in person, find your people!
You may want to find in-person support groups near home. Our Louisiana Disability Services Finder (en español) is a great place to start. (If not in Louisiana, ask your local PTIC about support groups.)
You can also connect with one of 10 regional Families Helping Families (FHF) centers across the state that support families of kids with disabilities. They are staffed by people who have kids with disabilities themselves and are familiar with the state and local services. They can help you navigate the processes of applying for services and advocating for your child’s needs. (Not in Louisiana? Find your own state’s Parent Training and Information Center).
Find your local Families Helping Families center in Louisiana, or join our LA Parents Facebook group.
Look into other support benefits like Medicaid Waivers and SSI There are other government benefits that support children with disabilities who qualify.
Here are three to begin with:
- Social Security
- Office for Citizens with Developmental Disabilities (OCDD) – Contact your local Human Services District Office to ask about OCDD supports. (If not in Louisiana, find your state disability office here.)
- Your health insurance, whether it’s Healthy Louisiana (Medicaid) or another private insurance. They may cover special services and support for children with disabilities that you may not know about.
Age 2.2 (2 years and 2 months): Connect with the school district
The most important step at this age is to connect with your school district and get the process started. The school district is also called the Lead Education Agency, or LEA.
Gather assessments and reports
Start collecting any documents that describe your child and their disability, and put them in one place. The school district will do their own evaluation to see if your child qualifies, but any paperwork you have will be helpful for this evaluation. This may include assessments from healthcare providers, reports from earlier developmental testing, or notes from providers who have worked with your child.
The evaluation should take place when your child is between 2.9 and 2.11. This way you can have the services in place by your child’s 3rd birthday.
Contact Child Find or Child Search
If your child is not in EarlySteps (Early Intervention), you can call to refer your child yourself. Every school district has a Child Find (or Child Search) Coordinator, whose job is to identify children who may have disabilities and help them with the process of accessing special education services if they qualify. Call your school district and ask for this person. You can also call the Special Education Department.
It may seem early to do this at age 2.2, but this will give the school (and you) plenty of time to get the paperwork together, plan for the evaluation, and develop the best education plan for your child.
If your child is in EarlySteps, your Family Service Coordinator (FSC) will help you through this process, and can connect with the school district for you! But make sure they follow this timeline, contact Child Find at this time, and send your child’s EarlySteps records.
Tip: Even if your child did not qualify for EarlySteps, they may qualify for special education. See the special education eligibility requirements here. A child must have 2 of these conditions to qualify for EarlySteps, but only one to qualify for special ed.
Have the Transition Meeting
Your Child Find Coordinator will schedule a Transition Meeting or Conference. They will meet your child, explain the special education process, fill out some paperwork, and look at the reports you have collected. They can also help you plan activities to help prepare your child emotionally for the change. (Maybe a visit to the school, creating a social story or having a goodbye party with their preschool friends and providers.)
Tip: You have a legal right to have this meeting at a time and place that works for you, and to have a trained interpreter there if English is not your preferred language..
Do Hearing and Vision Screenings
Ask your pediatrician to do hearing and vision screenings for your child at this time. The school will need these for their evaluation when your child is about 2.9 (2 years 9 months), and the reports must be less than 1 year old. The school can do these screenings when they do the evaluation, but they can take a while and may end up delaying the process. If you do the screenings now through your pediatrician, the reports will be ready.
Tip: If your child sees an audiologist to do the hearing screening, they can usually do the vision screening at the same time. Ask them!
Learn about pre-K (preschool) options
Why is preschool important? Many kids enter kindergarten unprepared for school, both academically and socially. This is especially true of kids who have disabilities. Preschool helps them to be ready, and research shows that kids who have gone to preschool before kindergarten have better outcomes later in school.
There are free public preschools called Pre-K 3 (for 3-year-olds) and Pre-K 4 (for 4-year-olds). There are also Head Start preschools for kids aged 3-5. These have income limits, but also save some seats for kids with disabilities. They do not have slots for everyone, but kids who have a disability will get priority. Ask your Child Find Coordinator what your child’s options are, and how and when to apply. See the Louisiana School Finder to learn about the preschools in your area.
There are also “self-contained” preschool classrooms that are specialized for children with disabilities. Some kids with more significant disabilities may need this special environment, but if your child can be in a regular preschool class with non-disabled peers, that is almost always a better option. Talk about this with your coordinator, but be firm about what you think would be best for your child.
Find contact numbers here for Pre-K enrollment, Head Start programs and other early childhood support in your Louisiana parish.
Age 2.9 (2 years & 9 months): Get an evaluation and prepare for the IEP
At this time, your child should get an evaluation from the school system to see if they qualify for special education services, and if so, what kind. Then you and the school team will develop your child’s IEP (Individualized Education Program).
Check that Child Find (or Child Search) has your file
Make sure that your school district’s Child Find office has your file by this time. (In some parishes, it’s called Child Search). There’s a lot to do between now and your child’s 3rd birthday, and you want everything to be in place by then so your child can start getting services right away.
Get the evaluation and results
The next step is the special ed evaluation. This is sometimes called a Pupil Appraisal evaluation or a 1508 evaluation. It is a series of tests to see if your child has a developmental delay or disability that may affect their learning. They will observe your child and use a variety of assessment tools.
The rest of this timeline tells you the steps if your child qualifies for special education services. What if my child doesn’t qualify?
The school is required to check all areas where you or they suspect a delay or disability. Speak up to make sure they include all the right tests.
Go to the IEP meeting
The IEP is a legal contract between you and the school. It describes your vision for your child, their goals, and the specialized instruction and support that the school will give them. In this meeting, you will find out if your child qualifies for services and what the school suggests based on the evaluation results. Here’s how the IEP meeting works.
Apply for pre-k options
Check with your Child Find coordinator to learn when and how to apply for pre-K. (See description above.) This process and timing depends on your parish and the program.
Find contact numbers here for early childhood special education support in all Louisiana parishes.
Visit schools and prepare your child for new setting
This will be a big change for your child! Aside from all the paperwork, you also need to help your child prepare emotionally for the change in setting and their new people. You can visit preschools, read stories about new schools, practice with a new schedule, and remind them what will not change in their life. Ask your FSC or Child Find coordinator for ideas to help your child get ready.
Age 3: Switch to school-based services
When your child turns 3 they can start special education services if they have qualified. The goal is to have the IEP (Individualized Education Program) ready by this time so they can start the services right away.
The school system is now in charge of your child’s services.
It may seem abrupt, but on your child’s 3rd birthday they will stop getting services from EarlySteps (if they had been) and start getting services from the school system. From this point on, the school is required by law to follow the IEP. The school has to start the services soon after you sign the IEP. (What if my child doesn’t have an IEP yet?)
Where will your child get the services? You will work this out with your school district. Your child may be in a preschool program and get the services there during the school day. Or you may take them into your local school or a community center to meet with the therapists there. Wherever the services happen, you must find a way to communicate with your child’s therapists and keep track of the services and progress.
Form a good relationship with the IEP team
You are a key part of the IEP team! Together you will be in charge of making sure that your child is getting the services in the IEP, and that these services are helping them make progress toward their goals. Get to know the team: find out who is your go-to, or point person and form a good relationship with them.
Age 3-5: Check Progress
If your child has qualified for special ed services and has an IEP, the next steps are to monitor their progress and keep in touch with the IEP team.
Monitor services and progress
Now you must make sure that your child is getting the right services and is making progress toward the goals described on the IEP. Keep in close touch with the teacher and the therapists as well as your IEP point person. Ask how your child is responding to the therapies and how much progress they are making. Learn more about tracking your child’s progress.
If you feel that something in the IEP is not working, you can talk to the team and ask for a change. This is your right as a parent.
Go to annual meetings (and more if you need them)
Every year you will have another IEP meeting to review the IEP, check progress and make changes if needed. The school will contact you and schedule it. Each member of the team will give an update on how your child is doing and make suggestions for changes to the goals or services. You, as part of the team, can also suggest changes.
Tip: You have a legal right to have this meeting at a time and place that works for you, and to have a trained interpreter there if you prefer a language other than English.
Learn about school options
As your child gets close to age 5, you should start getting them ready for kindergarten. You may have a local school or you may have a choice. See the Louisiana School Finder to learn about the schools in your area. Ask your IEP team and other parents how well different schools support kids with disabilities. Talk to the special education department in your school district.
Visit schools and prepare your child for new setting
Starting kindergarten will be another big change for your child! You may need to help them prepare emotionally for the change in setting and the new people they will be with. Find out if you can visit their new school and meet the teacher. You can also read stories about new schools, practice with a new schedule, and remind them what will not change in their life. Ask your IEP team for ideas to help your child get ready.
Age 5: Start kindergarten!
If your child turns 5 by September 30, they can start kindergarten in that school year. (This may be different in your state.) This will be a new experience and both you and your child may need emotional support. Talk to your child about the change, help them find ways to express their excitement and hesitation, and be alert for signs of anxiety. Talk to their IEP team about ways to help them prepare.
Meet with the teacher about the IEP
Your child’s new teacher should be familiar with the IEP, but check to make sure. As soon as possible, reach out and meet with them. Tell the teacher about your child: not just about their disability and services, but about who they are as a person. Some parents make a short picture book to help the teacher and new therapists get to know their child. Ask the teacher to explain how the services will be given to your child and make sure that the plan matches with the IEP.
Keep in touch with teacher and IEP team about services and child’s progress
It can be a relief to have your child in school! But you must stay actively involved. Keep checking that your child is getting all IEP services. Keep track of progress reports and your child’s emotional state. Make a plan for regular communication with both the teacher and the IEP team.
Line up other benefits and emotional support
If you haven’t done this already, look into benefits like SSI (Supplemental Security Income), Medicaid Waivers and other support from your region’s OCDD office (Office for Citizens with Developmental Disabilities). These benefits can support you both financially and with real hands-on support for your child. Some benefits may have long waitlists, so apply as soon as possible!
Connecting with other parents is also an important way to get emotional support. You can find help through your local Families Helping Families office, online groups, including Exceptional Lives’s Facebook Group, and through support groups in our Disability Services Finder (en español).