Supporting young children with developmental delays and disabilities

Are you worried about your young child’s development? Here’s everything you need to know, from getting an evaluation to starting preschool.

A mother reads to her toddler on the couch.

Are you worried about your young child’s development?

Maybe your child seems different from other kids their age. Maybe they can’t – or don’t – do things other kids their age do. Maybe you’ve already identified a disability and are figuring out how to navigate this.

You’re a parent. You’re worried. Whether this is your 1st child or your 5th, trust your gut.

We’ll address how you can find out if something is wrong, what it means if your child has a developmental delay or a disability, and how you can support them through the process. And then we’ll give you a timeline to walk you through the steps to get connected to school services at age 3-5.

Step-By-Step Guides

Parenting babies and toddlers is a non-stop job. If your child has a delay or a disability, there are some extra steps - but there are services for children with disabilities.

Whether you’ve just noticed your baby isn’t babbling yet or your child just graduated from Early Intervention, we have you covered. We’ll walk you through everything from what to do if you’re concerned about your child not meeting milestones to how to get them ready to start kindergarten. 

We’ll let you know how to assess your child’s development, and describe the systems and health care providers that can support your child and your family.

Is my child different?

Early Intervention Steps

Early Childhood Transition Timeline

Early Intervention transition to pre-school

If your child has a disability or delay, and they are between 2 and 3 (even if they are not in Early Intervention), it’s time to think about the transition to school or school-based services. Our step-by-step timeline will lay out what to do and when so you and your child will be ready.

  1. O-5+ Years & Beyond

    Act as soon as you have a concern! You can connect to disability support services no matter how old your child is. Here’s how to get started.

  2. 2 years, 2 months

    Connect with the school district. The most important step at this age is to connect with your school district and start exploring special education services. Here’s what you need to know.

  3. 2 years, 9 months

    Get an evaluation from your school district to see if your child qualifies for special education services. Here’s what to expect.

  4. 3 years

    Switch to school-based services. The public school system is required to support children with disabilities starting at age 3. Here’s how to make the switch.

  5. 3-5 years

    Check progress. When your child is between 3 and 5, you should monitor their services and check progress against their IEP goals. Here’s what to watch for.

  6. 5 years

    Start kindergarten! When your child turns 5, it’s time to start kindergarten. Here’s what to watch for. 

Terms to Know

Understanding the Language of Early Childhood Development

It can get confusing when learning about early childhood development. We have a full glossary of Special Education terms defined in straightforward language and short videos.

Read our Special Education GlossaryLea nuestro Glosario de Educación Especial
  1. Developmental Delay

    When a child does not yet learn or do certain skills that children their age typically do. Common examples: a speech delay, or trouble holding a crayon. Developmental delays can qualify a child for support services like Early Intervention or Special Education. (It’s called a delay until age 9 because children can catch up with the right support. After that it’s called a disability.) Read about assessing a young child’s development or services for children with developmental delays.

  2. Developmental Disability

    When a child or adult cannot do certain things that people their age typically do. It can be a physical or intellectual difference that limits someone’s ability to take care of themselves, starts when they are young, and will probably affect them throughout their life. Read about assessing a young child’s development or services for children with developmental disabilities.

  3. IFSP: Individualized Family Service Plan

    When a child is approved for Early Intervention services, the family and Family Service Coordinator will write up an IFSP. It describes the child’s goals, and the services the child and family will get. More about Early Intervention.

More perspectives on early child development stages

Our blogs, videos, and podcasts offer more perspectives on the joys, challenges, and work of helping our young children move from learning to eat to learning to read and write. We talk about everything from helping your preschooler manage anxiety to navigating the Early Intervention age-out.

Families & Stories

Families and Stories: Navigating early childhood delays and disabilities

In these short videos, parents of young children share what has worked for them, what they’ve learned, and what advice they would give to other families.

Father (white man) and daughter (white woman) smiling with daughter’s hand on father’s chest

Rob & Schuyler

Have you heard of Polymicrogyria (PMG)? Schuyler was diagnosed with the disorder at birth. PMG is a condition characterized by abnormal development of the brain before birth and affects Schuyler’s speech, learning ability, and can cause seizures. While schools are required to provide accommodations for those with disabilities, the real world can be slow to get on board.
Watch the video
Mother holding her smiling son and kissing him on the cheek.

Neda & Mason

Some parents suspect their child might be autistic at an early age, especially if they know what to look for. As a neonatal nurse, Neda knew the warning signs when it came to her son Mason’s developmental milestones and knew right away that something was different.
Watch the video

Corhonda & Corinth

At the age of 3, Corinth, who has Spina Bifida, was ready to start school. Read about Corinth and his mom’s journey from diagnosis to school.
Watch the video

Frequently Asked Questions about
Child Development Milestones

Navigating fears about your child's development, whether they are hitting milestones, and how to help can be confusing. Here are answers to some of the questions families ask us the most.

Contact us

Your first step is to figure out exactly what you are noticing about your child that concerns you. You can talk to others who know your child well and start keeping notes and photos to track how your child is changing over time.  Take a look at these 6 steps for assessing your child’s development.

Young children do hit developmental milestones at different times. But if you are concerned about your child’s development, it’s always a good idea to talk to your child’s doctor and ask for a developmental screen. Your child may be just a late bloomer, but if they are delayed, intervening early is more effective than intervening later. Listen to our podcast: How do I know if my child is just a late bloomer?

You don’t have to figure this out yourself! If you are concerned about your child’s development, you can go to your child’s doctor and ask them, or you can call Early Intervention (EI) yourself. 
Early Intervention is available in every state and U.S. territory. Find your state’s program or learn more about how Early Intervention can help your child.

You have options! You can appeal Early Intervention’s decision or wait a few months and have your child evaluated again. You can also find other services in your community to support your child and your family. Here are your next steps.