Individualized Family Services Plan

Learn About the IFSP, and What It Means for Your Child

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Looking for information about an IFSP? Hope you like alphabet soup! This acronym for the Individualized Family Services Plan is just one of the essential aliases you'll need to know to make sense of the services to which your special-needs child is entitled.

First off, you'll want to know the FAPE. This is the acronym for a free, appropriate public education. FAPE is the goal of the education legislation that will affect your family most directly, because when you have a special needs child, what fills the gap between a situation where your child can't learn and the promise of a FAPE is services.

And, as the name implies, those services should be free. Get the IDEA? Good, because the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is the law that guarantees your child a FAPE! Now you may not consider your kid's mild ADHD or sensory processing disorder a "disability" like being unable to walk or read, but it's all the same in the eyes of IDEA. Every child has a right to a FAPE, no matter what the size, shape or severity of their disability.

Under IDEA, in pursuit of a FAPE, your child may be eligible for EI. EI? That's early intervention, or the services designed to help children under three years of age who may be showing signs of delays or deficits. When EI is determined (at the state level) to be right for your child, it is implemented via a document known as an Individualized Family Services Plan, or IFSP.

What Is the IFSP Document?

The IFSP is a document similar to the Individualized Education Program (IEP) developed for children entering special education, but it's designed for younger children.

The IFSP is more focused on the family and on therapies that can help children with developmental delays catch up before they enter school. The IFSP generally includes a great deal of input from parents as to what they see as their child's specific strengths and challenges, and also includes the observations of doctors and therapists.

The IFSP will lay out when and where services will be provided, and what goals those services will help the child reach. Services usually include speech, physical, and occupational therapy, in addition to therapies specific to particular disabilities and services helpful to the whole family, such as counseling or respite. They may be provided at a facility or, more likely these days, in your home.

How Do You Get an IFSP?

The processes around early intervention and special education vary from state to state. Very generally, though, you will want to get in contact with your state's office for special education. Sometimes, a pre-school teacher or a pediatrician will make this recommendation for you, and you'll be contacted by the appropriate agency. Some states allow for you to apply directly for early-intervention services. Once your application has been reviewed and approved, a meeting will be held to codify your IFSP. The first steps will likely be testing by an approved child psychologist, therapist, or early-intervention center.

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