Finding Help for Young Children With Special Needs

Every child is unique, but some children face extra physical or learning challenges. Parents often have questions about sources of information and support. This FAQ addresses many of the questions that parents have asked the Illinois Early Learning project staff over the past few years and suggests resources that parents of young children may find useful.

Can I get my child evaluated for a possible developmental delay before she starts school?

Yes, you can. The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) in cooperation with the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) is responsible for ensuring developmental screening of infants, toddlers, and preschool children under the federal and state regulations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Illinois parents can learn more about getting developmental screening in two ways. If your child is 3 years old or older, check your local phone book or call your local public library to obtain the phone number of your local school district to request a screening. If your child is younger than age 3, contact a Child and Family Connections Office in your area.

A listing of all CFC offices and the areas they serve is available online:

Note for early care and education providers: the Child Find Project provides public awareness materials for school districts and early intervention programs. To order public awareness materials from Child Find, please call 800-851-6197 or visit . To refer a child or family to the early intervention services system, please call 800-323-GROW (800-323-4769) (Voice and TTY).

Is the local school district required to provide services for my preschool child?

If, after going through screening and evaluation through your local school district, your child is determined eligible for early childhood special education and related services, the school district is required to provide those services.

Professionals with training and expertise in special education services implement the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Part B, by supporting the educational needs of young children and families. Early childhood special education professionals and related services personnel provide specialized educational services to children with disabilities in a variety of settings such as early childhood, preschool, child care, prekindergarten/Preschool for All, Head Start, and other early childhood settings to meet the developmental learning needs of these children.

Early Intervention services for infants and toddlers and early childhood special education services are provided under IDEA.

School districts are required to provide a free and appropriate public education for all children with disabilities who are age 3 through age 21. Services through the school district must begin at age 3 for a child who is already served in an early intervention program. Parents can read a publication about their child’s rights with regard to special education in Illinois:

Local Education Agencies (LEAs) such as school districts work closely with Child and Family Connections offices and participate in Local Interagency Councils. LEAs also help children in their transition to a preschool program as they approach their third birthday:

Where can I find a parent support group?

Parents of young children with special needs often find other parents a great source of support, encouragement, and resources.

Parent groups related to a specific disability are listed in the following sections of this FAQ. Parent groups that serve parents of children with all types of special needs include the following:

My son’s doctor says my child has ADHD. Where can I find more information on this topic?

Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is characterized by problems with attention, impulsivity, and over-activity. Children with ADHD often have problems getting along with peers and can have trouble at home and at school.

  • Medline Plus offers a wealth of information on ADHD, as well as links to many additional resources.
  • CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) is a leading nonprofit organization serving individuals with ADHD and their families.

Where can I find information on autism?

Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are a group of developmental disabilities that cause problems in social interaction and communication. ASDs may include the presence of unusual behaviors and interests. Children with ASDs are likely to repeat certain behaviors and to not want change in their daily activities. ASDs begin during childhood and last throughout a person’s life.

  • The Autism Program of Illinois
  • Autism Speaks, formerly Cure Autism Now (CAN), also has local chapters. Autism Speaks raises funds for autism research, provides resources on autism topics and services, and increases autism awareness within the community:

My child was born with Down Syndrome. Where can I find more information on this topic?

A child with Down syndrome has an extra copy of chromosome 21. Those with Down syndrome share some physical and mental features, but symptoms of Down syndrome can range from mild to severe. Usually, children with Down Syndrome will have slower mental development and physical development than those without it. Some have other health problems, including heart disease, hearing and vision problems, and thyroid, intestine, and bone problems. However, often children with Down Syndrome live productive lives well into old age. Many related resources can be found on the Medline Plus Web site, including information on caring for a baby with Down Syndrome:

Parents may find additional support and information from this Illinois source:

Where can I find resources related to learning disabilities?

Learning disabilities can affect a child’s speech, hearing, reading, writing, spelling, mathematics, reasoning, memory, and information organization. The severity and effects of learning disabilities vary greatly.

  • LD Online includes a wealth of resources for parents, teachers, and children. The “Questions and Answers” section links to resources for specific disabilities. (Also in Spanish)
  • The Parent Center section of the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) Web site offers information to parents, professionals, and individuals with learning disabilities; promotes research; and advocates for policies to protect educational rights and opportunities:

Where can I find information related to children with hearing problems?

Research indicates that children with a hearing loss are helped by early identification and intervention and achieve a higher level of language development than children who do not take part in early intervention. Early intervention usually focuses on the child’s language and communication development and may include signed and spoken language, as well as assistive technology such as hearing aids.

Where can I find resources related to children with vision problems?

Illinois parents of children with severe vision problems can find support from other parents, as well as information that can help them encourage their children to develop the skills they need.

About this resource

Setting(s) for which the article is intended:
  • Family Child Care
  • Home

Intended audience(s):
  • Parents / Family

Age Levels (the age of the children to whom the article applies):
  • Infants and Toddlers (Birth To Age 3)
  • Preschoolers (Age 3 Through Age 5)

Reviewed: 2008