Early intervention is full of terms that people constantly use in writing and in conversation, and it’s important to know what those terms mean.
We are pleased to provide this handy reference to early intervention terminology, and hopes it helps our readers quickly connect with the meaning
of pivotal words and phrases in the field.
POINT OF REFERENCE: PART C OF IDEA
It’s extremely important to understand that many of the terms you’re likely to hear in early intervention come from our nation’s law authorizing
this program for infants and toddlers with disabilities, Part C of IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). You’ll find many, many
references to this law on the CPIR’s website and in its publications, because IDEA guides how early intervention (Part C) and special education
and related services (Part B) are provided to children with disabilities in the United States, birth to age 21.
States develop their own policies and procedures based on what IDEA requires. States are allowed to go beyond what IDEA requires–and frequently
do, because the law leaves a great many things to State and local discretion. However, States are not permitted to have policies or procedures
that are not consistent with IDEA’s provisions.
This being the case, the starting point of early intervention terms and what they mean is always how Part C of IDEA defines the terms (most of
which are provided through this page and elsewhere on this site). Your State’s definition of a term is then important to consider, because
it will influence how the term is being used in your area, especially if the State definition isn’t exactly the same as IDEA’s.
The Part C regulations define consent at §303.7, as follows:
Consent means that—
(a) The parent has been fully informed of all information relevant to the activity for which consent is sought, in the parent’s native language,
as defined in §303.25;
(b) The parent understands and agrees in writing to the carrying out of the activity for which the parent’s consent is sought, and the consent
form describes that activity and lists the early intervention records (if any) that will be released and to whom they will be released; and
(c)(1) The parent understands that the granting of consent is voluntary on the part of the parent and may be revoked at any time.
(2) If a parent revokes consent, that revocation is not retroactive (i.e., it does not apply to an action that occurred before the consent was
Additional provisions of import | The following provisions are also important with respect to parental consent.
§303.420 Parental consent and ability to decline services.
(a) The lead agency must ensure parental consent is obtained before—
(1) Administering screening procedures under §303.320 that are used to determine whether a child is suspected of having a disability;
(2) All evaluations and assessments of a child are conducted under §303.321;
(3) Early intervention services are provided to the child under this part;
(4) Public benefits or insurance or private insurance is used if such consent is required under §303.520; and
(5) Disclosure of personally identifiable information consistent with §303.414.
(b) If a parent does not give consent under paragraph (a)(1), (a)(2), or (a)(3) of this section, the lead agency must make reasonable efforts to
ensure that the parent—
(1) Is fully aware of the nature of the evaluation and assessment of the child or early intervention services that would be available; and
(2) Understands that the child will not be able to receive the evaluation, assessment, or early intervention service unless consent is given.
(c) The lead agency may not use the due process hearing procedures under this part or Part B of the Act to challenge a parent’s refusal to provide
any consent that is required under paragraph (a) of this section.
(d) The parents of an infant or toddler with a disability—
(1) Determine whether they, their infant or toddler with a disability, or other family members will accept or decline any early intervention service
under this part at any time, in accordance with State law; and
(2) May decline a service after first accepting it, without jeopardizing other early intervention services under this part.
The definition of developmental delay in the Part C regulations of IDEA is actually very tiny. Here it is:
§ 303.10 Developmental delay.
Developmental delay, when used with respect to a child residing in a State, has the meaning given that term by the State under §303.111.
As can be seen, the entirety of the term is defined by each State, for use with children residing in that State. This gives enormous flexibility
to each State—within the parameters of what specific other provisions in the Part C regulations require–especially the following:
§303.111 State definition of developmental delay.
Each system must include the State’s rigorous definition of developmental delay, consistent with §§303.10 and 303.203(c), that will be used by
the State in carrying out programs under Part C of the Act in order to appropriately identify infants and toddlers with disabilities who are
in need of services under Part C of the Act. The definition must—
(a) Describe, for each of the areas listed in §303.21(a)(1), the evaluation and assessment procedures, consistent with §303.321, that will be used
to measure a child’s development; and
(b) Specify the level of developmental delay in functioning or other comparable criteria that constitute a developmental delay in one or more of
the developmental areas identified in §303.21(a)(1).
Editor’s note | The developmental areas mentioned in the above definition are:
- Cognitive development
- Physical development, including vision and hearing
- Communication development
- Social or emotional development
- Adaptive development
EARLY INTERVENTION SERVICES
Do you really want to know how the Part C regulations define the term early intervention services? Of course you do. Brace yourself, though, because
it’s a long one. Here goes…
§303.13 Early intervention services.
(a) General. Early intervention services means developmental services that—
(1) Are provided under public supervision;
(2) Are selected in collaboration with the parents;
(3) Are provided at no cost, except, subject to §§303.520 and 303.521, where Federal or State law provides for a system of payments by families,
including a schedule of sliding fees;
(4) Are designed to meet the developmental needs of an infant or toddler with a disability and the needs of the family to assist appropriately
in the infant’s or toddler’s development, as identified by the IFSP Team, in any one or more of the following areas, including—
(i) Physical development;
(ii) Cognitive development;
(iii) Communication development;
(iv) Social or emotional development; or
(v) Adaptive development;
(5) Meet the standards of the State in which the early intervention services are provided, including the requirements of Part C of the Act;
(6) Include services identified under paragraph (b) of this section;
(7) Are provided by qualified personnel (as that term is defined in §303.31), including the types of personnel listed in paragraph (c) of this
(8) To the maximum extent appropriate, are provided in natural environments, as defined in §303.26 and consistent with §§303.126 and 303.344(d);
(9) Are provided in conformity with an IFSP adopted in accordance with section 636 of the Act and §303.20.
(b) Types of early intervention services. Subject to paragraph (d) of this section, early intervention services include the following services
defined in this paragraph:
(1) Assistive technology device and service are defined as follows:
(i) Assistive technology device means any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or
customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of an infant or toddler with a disability. The term
does not include a medical device that is surgically implanted, including a cochlear implant, or the optimization (e.g., mapping), maintenance,
or replacement of that device.
(ii) Assistive technology service means any service that directly assists an infant or toddler with a disability in the selection, acquisition,
or use of an assistive technology device. The term includes—
(A) The evaluation of the needs of an infant or toddler with a disability, including a functional evaluation of the infant or toddler with a disability
in the child’s customary environment;
(B) Purchasing, leasing, or otherwise providing for the acquisition of assistive technology devices by infants or toddlers with disabilities;
(C) Selecting, designing, fitting, customizing, adapting, applying, maintaining, repairing, or replacing assistive technology devices;
(D) Coordinating and using other therapies, interventions, or services with assistive technology devices, such as those associated with existing
education and rehabilitation plans and programs;
(E) Training or technical assistance for an infant or toddler with a disability or, if appropriate, that child’s family; and
(F) Training or technical assistance for professionals (including individuals providing education or rehabilitation services) or other individuals
who provide services to, or are otherwise substantially involved in the major life functions of, infants and toddlers with disabilities.
(2) Audiology services include—
(i) Identification of children with auditory impairments, using at-risk criteria and appropriate audiologic screening techniques;
(ii) Determination of the range, nature, and degree of hearing loss and communication functions, by use of audiological evaluation procedures;
(iii) Referral for medical and other services necessary for the habilitation or rehabilitation of an infant or toddler with a disability who has
an auditory impairment;
(iv) Provision of auditory training, aural rehabilitation, speech reading and listening devices, orientation and training, and other services;
(v) Provision of services for prevention of hearing loss; and
(vi) Determination of the child’s individual amplification, including selecting, fitting, and dispensing appropriate listening and vibrotactile
devices, and evaluating the effectiveness of those devices.
(3) Family training, counseling, and home visits means services provided, as appropriate, by social workers, psychologists, and other qualified
personnel to assist the family of an infant or toddler with a disability in understanding the special needs of the child and enhancing the
(4) Health services has the meaning given the term in §303.16.
(5) Medical services means services provided by a licensed physician for diagnostic or evaluation purposes to determine a child’s developmental
status and need for early intervention services.
(6) Nursing services include—
(i) The assessment of health status for the purpose of providing nursing care, including the identification of patterns of human response to actual
or potential health problems;
(ii) The provision of nursing care to prevent health problems, restore or improve functioning, and promote optimal health and development; and
(iii) The administration of medications, treatments, and regimens prescribed by a licensed physician.
(7) Nutrition services include—
(i) Conducting individual assessments in—
(A) Nutritional history and dietary intake;
(B) Anthropometric, biochemical, and clinical variables;
(C) Feeding skills and feeding problems; and
(D) Food habits and food preferences;
(ii) Developing and monitoring appropriate plans to address the nutritional needs of children eligible under this part, based on the findings in
paragraph (b)(7)(i) of this section; and
(iii) Making referrals to appropriate community resources to carry out nutrition goals.
(8) Occupational therapy includes services to address the functional needs of an infant or toddler with a disability related to adaptive development,
adaptive behavior, and play, and sensory, motor, and postural development. These services are designed to improve the child’s functional ability
to perform tasks in home, school, and community settings, and include—
(i) Identification, assessment, and intervention;
(ii) Adaptation of the environment, and selection, design, and fabrication of assistive and orthotic devices to facilitate development and promote
the acquisition of functional skills; and
(iii) Prevention or minimization of the impact of initial or future impairment, delay in development, or loss of functional ability.
(9) Physical therapy includes services to address the promotion of sensorimotor function through enhancement of musculoskeletal status, neurobehavioral
organization, perceptual and motor development, cardiopulmonary status, and effective environmental adaptation. These services include—
(i) Screening, evaluation, and assessment of children to identify movement dysfunction;
(ii) Obtaining, interpreting, and integrating information appropriate to program planning to prevent, alleviate, or compensate for movement dysfunction
and related functional problems; and
(iii) Providing individual and group services or treatment to prevent, alleviate, or compensate for, movement dysfunction and related functional
(10) Psychological services include—
(i) Administering psychological and developmental tests and other assessment procedures;
(ii) Interpreting assessment results;
(iii) Obtaining, integrating, and interpreting information about child behavior and child and family conditions related to learning, mental health,
and development; and
(iv) Planning and managing a program of psychological services, including psychological counseling for children and parents, family counseling,
consultation on child development, parent training, and education programs.
(11) Service coordination services has the meaning given the term in §303.34.
(12) Sign language and cued language services include teaching sign language, cued language, and auditory/oral language, providing oral transliteration
services (such as amplification), and providing sign and cued language interpretation.
(13) Social work services include—
(i) Making home visits to evaluate a child’s living conditions and patterns of parent-child interaction;
(ii) Preparing a social or emotional developmental assessment of the infant or toddler within the family context;
(iii) Providing individual and family-group counseling with parents and other family members, and appropriate social skill-building activities
with the infant or toddler and parents;
(iv) Working with those problems in the living situation (home, community, and any center where early intervention services are provided) of an
infant or toddler with a disability and the family of that child that affect the child’s maximum utilization of early intervention services;
(v) Identifying, mobilizing, and coordinating community resources and services to enable the infant or toddler with a disability and the family
to receive maximum benefit from early intervention services.
(14) Special instruction includes—
(i) The design of learning environments and activities that promote the infant’s or toddler’s acquisition of skills in a variety of developmental
areas, including cognitive processes and social interaction;
(ii) Curriculum planning, including the planned interaction of personnel, materials, and time and space, that leads to achieving the outcomes in
the IFSP for the infant or toddler with a disability;
(iii) Providing families with information, skills, and support related to enhancing the skill development of the child; and
(iv) Working with the infant or toddler with a disability to enhance the child’s development.
(15) Speech-language pathology services include—
(i) Identification of children with communication or language disorders and delays in development of communication skills, including the diagnosis
and appraisal of specific disorders and delays in those skills;
(ii) Referral for medical or other professional services necessary for the habilitation or rehabilitation of children with communication or language
disorders and delays in development of communication skills; and
(iii) Provision of services for the habilitation, rehabilitation, or prevention of communication or language disorders and delays in development
of communication skills.
(16) Transportation and related costs include the cost of travel and other costs that are necessary to enable an infant or toddler with a disability
and the child’s family to receive early intervention services.
(17) Vision services mean—
(i) Evaluation and assessment of visual functioning, including the diagnosis and appraisal of specific visual disorders, delays, and abilities
that affect early childhood development;
(ii) Referral for medical or other professional services necessary for the habilitation or rehabilitation of visual functioning disorders, or both;
(iii) Communication skills training, orientation and mobility training for all environments, visual training, and additional training necessary
to activate visual motor abilities.
(c) Qualified personnel. The following are the types of qualified personnel who provide early intervention services under this part:
(2) Family therapists.
(4) Occupational therapists.
(5) Orientation and mobility specialists.
(6) Pediatricians and other physicians for diagnostic and evaluation purposes.
(7) Physical therapists.
(9) Registered dieticians.
(10) Social workers.
(11) Special educators, including teachers of children with hearing impairments (including deafness) and teachers of children with visual impairments
(12) Speech and language pathologists.
(13) Vision specialists, including ophthalmologists and optometrists.
(d) Other services. The services and personnel identified and defined in paragraphs (b) and (c) of this section do not comprise exhaustive lists
of the types of services that may constitute early intervention services or the types of qualified personnel that may provide early intervention
services. Nothing in this section prohibits the identification in the IFSP of another type of service as an early intervention service provided
that the service meets the criteria identified in paragraph (a) of this section or of another type of personnel that may provide early intervention
services in accordance with this part, provided such personnel meet the requirements in §303.31.
Definition of health services | You’ve reached the end of the definition of early intervention services in the Part C regulations. Now, here are
the additional regulations that define “health services” (at §303.16), which were mentioned in the above definition.
§303.16 Health services.
(a) Health services mean services necessary to enable an otherwise eligible child to benefit from the other early intervention services under this
part during the time that the child is eligible to receive early intervention services.
(b) The term includes—
(1) Such services as clean intermittent catheterization, tracheostomy care, tube feeding, the changing of dressings or colostomy collection bags,
and other health services; and
(2) Consultation by physicians with other service providers concerning the special health care needs of infants and toddlers with disabilities
that will need to be addressed in the course of providing other early intervention services.
(c) The term does not include—
(1) Services that are—
(i) Surgical in nature (such as cleft palate surgery, surgery for club foot, or the shunting of hydrocephalus);
(ii) Purely medical in nature (such as hospitalization for management of congenital heart ailments, or the prescribing of medicine or drugs for
any purpose); or
(iii) Related to the implementation, optimization (e.g., mapping), maintenance, or replacement of a medical device that is surgically implanted,
including a cochlear implant.
(A) Nothing in this part limits the right of an infant or toddler with a disability with a surgically implanted device (e.g., cochlear implant)
to receive the early intervention services that are identified in the child’s IFSP as being needed to meet the child’s developmental outcomes.
(B) Nothing in this part prevents the EIS provider from routinely checking that either the hearing aid or the external components of a surgically
implanted device (e.g., cochlear implant) of an infant or toddler with a disability are functioning properly;
(2) Devices (such as heart monitors, respirators and oxygen, and gastrointestinal feeding tubes and pumps) necessary to control or treat a medical
(3) Medical-health services (such as immunizations and regular “well-baby” care) that are routinely recommended for all children.
INFANT OR TODDLER WITH A DISABILITY
Key terms don’t get more key than this one! The Part C regulations define infant or toddler with a disability at §303.21, as follows:
§303.21 Infant or toddler with a disability.
(a) Infant or toddler with a disability means an individual under three years of age who needs early intervention services because the individual—
(1) Is experiencing a developmental delay, as measured by appropriate diagnostic instruments and procedures, in one or more of the following areas:
(i) Cognitive development.
(ii) Physical development, including vision and hearing.
(iii) Communication development.
(iv) Social or emotional development.
(v) Adaptive development; or
(2) Has a diagnosed physical or mental condition that—
(i) Has a high probability of resulting in developmental delay; and
(ii) Includes conditions such as chromosomal abnormalities; genetic or congenital disorders; sensory impairments; inborn errors of metabolism;
disorders reflecting disturbance of the development of the nervous system; congenital infections; severe attachment disorders; and disorders
secondary to exposure to toxic substances, including fetal alcohol syndrome.
(b) Infant or toddler with a disability may include, at a State’s discretion, an at-risk infant or toddler (as defined in §303.5).
(c) Infant or toddler with a disability may include, at a State’s discretion, a child with a disability who is eligible for services under section
619 of the Act and who previously received services under this part until the child enters, or is eligible under State law to enter, kindergarten
or elementary school, as appropriate, provided that any programs under this part must include—
(1) An educational component that promotes school readiness and incorporates pre-literacy, language, and numeracy skills for children ages three
and older who receive Part C services pursuant to §303.211; and
(2) A written notification to parents of a child with a disability who is eligible for services under section 619 of the Act and who previously
received services under this part of their rights and responsibilities in determining whether their child will continue to receive services
under this part or participate in preschool programs under section 619 of the Act.
Not a very long definition this time. Multidisciplinary is defined as follows:
§ 303.24 Multidisciplinary.
Multidisciplinary means the involvement of two or more separate disciplines or professions and with respect to—
(a) Evaluation of the child in §§303.113 and 303.321(a)(1)(i) and assessments of the child and family in §303.321(a)(1)(ii), may include one individual
who is qualified in more than one discipline or profession; and
(b) The IFSP Team in §303.340 must include the involvement of the parent and two or more individuals from separate disciplines or professions and
one of these individuals must be the service coordinator (consistent with §303.343(a)(1)(iv)).
Here’s another short-ish but important definition from the Part C regulations.
§ 303.25 Native language.
(a) Native language, when used with respect to an individual who is limited English proficient or LEP (as that term is defined in section 602(18)
of the Act), means—
(1) The language normally used by that individual, or, in the case of a child, the language normally used by the parents of the child, except as
provided in paragraph (a)(2) of this section; and
(2) For evaluations and assessments conducted pursuant to §303.321(a)(5) and (a)(6), the language normally used by the child, if determined developmentally
appropriate for the child by qualified personnel conducting the evaluation or assessment.
(b) Native language, when used with respect to an individual who is deaf or hard of hearing, blind or visually impaired, or for an individual with
no written language, means the mode of communication that is normally used by the individual (such as sign language, braille, or oral communication).
Early intervention services are to be provided in natural environments to the maximum extent appropriate for the child and for the service being
provided. Here’s Part C’s definition of the term.
§303.26 Natural environments.
Natural environments means settings that are natural or typical for a same-aged infant or toddler without a disability, may include the home or
community settings, and must be consistent with the provisions of §303.126.
And what might the provisions of §303.126 have to say?
§303.126 Early intervention services in natural environments.
Each system must include policies and procedures to ensure, consistent with §§303.13(a)(8) (early intervention services), 303.26 (natural environments),
and 303.344(d)(1)(ii) (content of an IFSP), that early intervention services for infants and toddlers with disabilities are provided—
(a) To the maximum extent appropriate, in natural environments; and
(b) In settings other than the natural environment that are most appropriate, as determined by the parent and the IFSP Team, only when early intervention
services cannot be achieved satisfactorily in a natural environment.
PRIOR WRITTEN NOTICE
The purpose of prior written notice is to inform the parents fully of a proposed (or refused) activity or action on the part of the early intervention
§303.421 Prior written notice and procedural safeguards notice.
(a) General. Prior written notice must be provided to parents a reasonable time before the lead agency or an EIS provider proposes, or refuses,
to initiate or change the identification, evaluation, or placement of their infant or toddler, or the provision of early intervention services
to the infant or toddler with a disability and that infant’s or toddler’s family.
(b) Content of notice. The notice must be in sufficient detail to inform parents about—
(1) The action that is being proposed or refused;
(2) The reasons for taking the action; and
(3) All procedural safeguards that are available under this subpart, including a description of mediation in §303.431, how to file a State complaint
in §§303.432 through 303.434 and a due process complaint in the provisions adopted under §303.430(d), and any timelines under those procedures.
(c) Native language. (1) The notice must be—
(i) Written in language understandable to the general public; and
(ii) Provided in the native language, as defined in §303.25, of the parent or other mode of communication used by the parent, unless it is clearly
not feasible to do so.
(2) If the native language or other mode of communication of the parent is not a written language, the public agency or designated EIS provider
must take steps to ensure that—
(i) The notice is translated orally or by other means to the parent in the parent’s native language or other mode of communication;
(ii) The parent understands the notice; and
(iii) There is written evidence that the requirements of this paragraph have been met.
SERVICE COORDINATION SERVICES
And last but not least, here’s how the Part C regulations define the term service coordination services, which is referenced in the definition
of early intervention services above.
§303.34 Service coordination services (case management).
(a) General. (1) As used in this part, service coordination services mean services provided by a service coordinator to assist and enable an infant
or toddler with a disability and the child’s family to receive the services and rights, including procedural safeguards, required under this
(2) Each infant or toddler with a disability and the child’s family must be provided with one service coordinator who is responsible for—
(i) Coordinating all services required under this part across agency lines; and
(ii) Serving as the single point of contact for carrying out the activities described in paragraphs (a)(3) and (b) of this section.
(3) Service coordination is an active, ongoing process that involves—
(i) Assisting parents of infants and toddlers with disabilities in gaining access to, and coordinating the provision of, the early intervention
services required under this part; and
(ii) Coordinating the other services identified in the IFSP under §303.344(e) that are needed by, or are being provided to, the infant or toddler
with a disability and that child’s family.
(b) Specific service coordination services. Service coordination services include—
(1) Assisting parents of infants and toddlers with disabilities in obtaining access to needed early intervention services and other services identified
in the IFSP, including making referrals to providers for needed services and scheduling appointments for infants and toddlers with disabilities
and their families;
(2) Coordinating the provision of early intervention services and other services (such as educational, social, and medical services that are not
provided for diagnostic or evaluative purposes) that the child needs or is being provided;
(3) Coordinating evaluations and assessments;
(4) Facilitating and participating in the development, review, and evaluation of IFSPs;
(5) Conducting referral and other activities to assist families in identifying available EIS providers;
(6) Coordinating, facilitating, and monitoring the delivery of services required under this part to ensure that the services are provided in a
(7) Conducting follow-up activities to determine that appropriate Part C services are being provided;
(8) Informing families of their rights and procedural safeguards, as set forth in subpart E of this part and related resources;
(9) Coordinating the funding sources for services required under this part; and
(10) Facilitating the development of a transition plan to preschool, school, or, if appropriate, to other services.
(c) Use of the term service coordination or service coordination services. The lead agency’s or an EIS provider’s use of the term service coordination
or service coordination services does not preclude characterization of the services as case management or any other service that is covered
by another payor of last resort (including Title XIX of the Social Security Act—Medicaid), for purposes of claims in compliance with
the requirements of §§303.501 through 303.521 (Payor of last resort provisions).