What is the difference between Early Intervention and Other Services for Children with Autism?
There are 3 main categories of services that children with autism may receive:
- Services accessed through the healthcare system and paid for by health insurance
- Services accessed through state Early Intervention programs
- Services accessed through local schools.
This article is intended to provide an overview of category 2. The term “Early Intervention” can mean 2 different things based on the context in which it’s used:
- As a type of therapy: A wide body of research shows that providing evidence-based services to children earlier in life leads to better outcomes. In this setting, early intervention is related to timing, as services for children newly diagnosed with autism should begin as early as possible.
- As a government program: The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) provides free services for children under the age of 3 through a program called Early Intervention. This national program is administered at the state level for children with developmental delays, including but not limited to children with autism.
For instance, in the state of Colorado, Early Intervention is run by the Colorado Office of Early Childhood under the Department of Human Services. It is administered by 20 Community-Centered Boards (CCBs) that focus on specific geographic regions in Colorado. Services are free, and there are no income requirements to participate in the Colorado program.
What is the process for getting an IFSP?
If your child is under the age of 3, they may be eligible to receive Early Intervention (EI) services via an Individualized Family Services Plan, or IFSP. Here’s an outline of the process:
- Get a referral to a local CCB.
Anyone can reach out to a local CCB with a concern about a child—such as a parent, family member, doctor, or another member of the community. Additional information and referral forms are available on each state’s Early Intervention website.
- Receive a call from a service coordinator.
A service coordinator from the EI program will contact you directly after receiving a referral to the CCB; they are required to contact you within 3 business days of obtaining your referral.
- Receive an evaluation and/or assessment.
Within 45 days of the referral, you will receive an evaluation and/or assessment of your child’s strengths and needs. This will determine their eligibility for EI services.
- Get an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP).
Children determined to be eligible for EI will have an IFSP created. The IFSP offers a roadmap for the services your child will receive through EI, and it must be completed within 45 days of the referral.
- Receive services based on your IFSP.
Services begin with a provider who is contracted with the CCB based on your IFSP, and they must begin within 28 days of a parent’s consent. Your child may continue to receive services outside of the EI program as well, as EI tends to offer lower-intensity services and is not intended to encompass all care needs.
What are the differences between EI-based and insurance-based services?
Services from EI programs and services covered by health insurance offer complementary approaches to helping a child. Some families access only EI services, other families access only health insurance-based services, and some access both.
EI services tend to be lower in intensity and free to families, focusing on fewer hours and parental training. In contrast, health insurance-based services tend to cover more hours of therapy, but they may have associated copays or deductibles, depending on your health insurance plan.
How do I coordinate care for my child with autism if they receive both EI services and non-EI services?
Emphasize to all providers the importance of coordination of care to you. You will likely have to sign releases of information with all providers so they can communicate about your child’s services. You may also want to request a team meeting or clinical observations across providers. At a minimum, providers should share treatment plans and details regarding client progress.