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Journal Article  March 1, 2006

Eligibility characteristics of infants and toddlers entering early intervention services in the United States

SRI Authors Kathleen M. Hebbeler



Scarborough, A. A., Hebbeler, K. M., & Spiker, D. (2006). Eligibility characteristics of infants and toddlers entering early intervention services in the United States. Journal of Policy and Practice in Intellectual Disabilities, 3(1), 57-64.


In the United States, legislation originally enacted in 1986 provided grants to states to build interagency service systems for children from birth to 3 years of age with developmental delays and disabilities. This legislation now renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was intended to facilitate the development of a coordinated comprehensive statewide system of early intervention (EI) services. This legislation allowed states considerable flexibility, resulting in diverse service systems and variability regarding eligibility for services. To meet the need for information about EI services and its participants, the U.S. Department of Education commissioned the National Early Intervention Longitudinal Study. Data on a nationally representative sample of children revealed that 62% of children who began EI before 31 months of age were eligible for services because of developmental delay, 22% of them because of a diagnosed condition and 17% because they were at risk for developmental delay. For those entering when older than 24 months, 91% were described as eligible because of developmental delay. Reasons for eligibility based on information from parent descriptions of why their child received services corresponded with reasons for eligibility based on information from providers for the majority of children. Authors provide suggestions for improved services through the use of descriptors of the nature of a child's disability.

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