Finding Help for Young Children With Disabilities and Developmental Delays

Every child is unique, and some children face extra physical or learning challenges. Parents often have questions about sources of information and support. This Q&A suggests resources that parents of young children may find useful.

Finding Help for Young Children With Disabilities and Developmental Delays

Can I get my child evaluated for a possible developmental delay before they start 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, contact 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.

Note for early care and education providers: The Child Find Project provides public awareness materials as part of the comprehensive Child Find system. To order public awareness materials from Child Find, please call 800-851-6197 or visit https://www.childfind-idea-il.us. To refer a child or family to the early intervention services system, please call 800-323-GROW (800-323-4769) (Voice and TTY) or visit the Getting Started in Early Intervention webpage.

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. To learn more about the process leading up to special education services, please see our special education assessment tip sheet series, meant to be read in this order:

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 in a variety of settings such as preschool, childcare, prekindergarten/Preschool for All, Head Start, and other early childhood programs. 

School districts are required to provide a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) for all children with disabilities who are age 3 through age 21. Parents can read a publication about their child’s rights regarding special education in Illinois. Services through the school district must begin at age 3 for a child who is already served in an early intervention program. (An exception to this rule may occur for children with summer birthdays, who can continue receiving early intervention services until the beginning of the school year.) Local Education Agencies (LEAs), such as school districts, work closely with Child and Family Connections offices, supporting families in planning for their child’s transition to early childhood services, preschool, or other community programs. Learn more about this process by reading the following documents:

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 Q&A. Parent groups that serve parents of children with all types of disabilities include the following:

Where can I find information on autism?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that can cause social, communication, and behavioral challenges. ASD begins during childhood and lasts throughout a person’s life. Learn more by visiting the following pages:

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. Individuals with Down syndrome share some common characteristics. Usually, children with Down syndrome have delays in physical and/or intellectual development. Some individuals have other health problems, including hearing and vision problems; thyroid, intestine, and bone problems; and congenital heart defects that may require surgery. However, people with Down syndrome often live productive lives well into old age. Additional resources are listed below.

Where can I find information to support a child who is Deaf or hard of hearing?

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. Hearing loss may be detected at birth through newborn screenings, or may be discovered during routine screenings during doctor visits or in early childhood settings. Learn more about hearing and young children in our tip sheet, Do You Hear What I Hear?

Intervention for children who are Deaf or hard of hearing 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. Additional resources are listed below.

Where can I find resources to support a child who is blind or visually impaired?

Blindness or visual impairments may be detected during routine screenings during doctor visits or in early childhood settings. Learn more about vision and young children in our tip sheets:

Parents of children with significant vision support needs can connect with other parents and find other resources related to their child’s needs by visiting the following pages:

Web Resources

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Intended audience(s):
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Reviewed: 2022