Early-Intervention Services in Connecticut

Q&A with Attorney Jennifer Laviano and Advocate Julie Swanson

Father playing with special needs child
Susan Chiang / Getty Images

In Connecticut, children under three years of age who have developmental delays may be eligible for early-intervention services through a program called Birth to Three. I asked two experts on special-needs services in Connecticut, attorney Jennifer Laviano and special-education advocate Julie Swanson, to give an overview of early intervention in the state of Connecticut and suggest some things parents can do to get started.

 You can find a list of Birth to 3 contacts in Connecticut at www.birth23.org/contact.html.

Who Should a Parent Contact?

In Connecticut, many individuals typically make referrals to Birth to Three, including parents and, very often, pediatricians. [Download an Individualized Family Services Plan Handbook]

Birth to Three is managed through the Connecticut Department of Developmental Services. Once a child turns three, the obligation for services falls upon the school district of residence. Most of the time, early-intervention services take place in the student's home, but occasionally in centers. The number of hours per week varies dramatically based on the needs of the child. It is essential to remember that, just like special-education services for school-aged children, early intervention services are supposed to be individualized to meet the unique needs of the child.

Advice for Parents About Services

Listen to your gut.

If something is telling you, as a parent, that there is something wrong with your child, listen to that instinct. Remember that, unfortunately, when your child is evaluated by Birth to Three, he or she is being evaluated by an agency that has a vested interest in the outcome of that evaluation, because the results may mean additional cost to the state.

Therefore, do not necessarily assume that "less is more" or that the evaluations done by Birth to Three are as comprehensive or objective as you would obtain on your own. When in doubt, obtain an outside evaluation to get a second opinion that you can then present to Birth to Three. And be sure to check out the credentials of that evaluator, including whether this is someone who is willing to advocate for your child's need for services.

Transitioning Between Birth to Three and Special Education

Typically, Birth to Three will make a referral to the child's local educational agency (LEA) a few months before the child's third birthday. Then an Individualized Education Program (IEP) team meeting (also referred to in Connecticut as a PPT, which is a Planning and Placement Team Meeting) will be scheduled with the parents, the school district, and Birth to Three providers to discuss the referral and what, if any, assessments and evaluations need to be undertaken to determine whether the student is eligible for special-education services through an IEP. Observation of the student is often scheduled by school district personnel as well. Very often, a second IEP team meeting/PPT is reconvened before the student's third birthday to review the results of the evaluation and observations, and if the child is found eligible for an IEP, a program is developed at that meeting.

About Jennifer Laviano and Julie Swanson

Attorney Jennifer Laviano has dedicated her Connecticut law practice entirely to the representation of children and adolescents with disabilities whose families are in disagreement with their public school districts. Her representation of children with special needs encompasses the full spectrum of advocacy under the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), from attendance at IEP team meetings and mediation to zealous and experienced litigation in due-process hearings and federal court. Ms. Laviano is a regular presenter, both locally and nationally, on the subject of the special legal rights of children with disabilities and their entitlement to receive a Free and Appropriate Public Education, and the author of the popular Special Ed Justice.

Julie Swanson is the mother of a teenager with disabilities and is in private practice as a special-education advocate. After her son was diagnosed with autism at the age of two, Julie returned to school to obtain a degree as a Disability Specialist. Her advocacy practice (www.YourSpecialChild.com) is devoted to working with parents to secure appropriate education services for children with a wide variety of disabilities. Julie also appears regularly on television to discuss the everyday challenges—and solutions—facing families living with disability. Julie is dedicated to addressing disability-related issues, ranging from bullying to adaptive tools for daily living.

Laviano and Swanson are co-hosts of "Your Special Education Rights with Jen and Julie," a national, Internet-based radio show, and they work together on numerous projects to bring crucial information about special education advocacy to the mainstream.

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