Children with disabilities can get public school special education services even if they are not “old enough” for school. If your 3- to 5-year-old child is eligible for special education services, he may be able to get them through Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE) in your school district.
Contact your local school district to see if your child is eligible. When requesting that your child be evaluated, you will sign a consent form. Your school district has a specific timeline for completing the evaluation. After the evaluation you will be invited to an Admission, Review, and Dismissal (ARD) meeting to determine whether your child is eligible for ECSE. Also see Special Education: The Referral and Evaluation Process.
You know your child best. You and the other members of your child's ARD committee will work together to:
- Decide if your child is eligible for special education services
- Decide if your child is eligible for related services
- Decide what those related services are, how often your child will have them, and for how long
- Develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for your child with goals and timelines for meeting those goals
- Decide when your child will begin services (if he received services from ECI, this will be on his 3rd birthday)
- Decide where ECSE services will be provided
If your child is eligible for prekindergarten or kindergarten, he can still receive ECSE services.
Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE) is a public school special education program for children who are 3 through 5 years old. Eligible children can receive special education services in a variety of environments.
You will often hear that school districts offer a “continuum of services.” This means that the district offers a variety of services and probably also a variety of locations to receive those services. The decision about services and the setting for receiving the services is based on your child’s unique needs.
During your child’s Admission, Review, and Dismissal (ARD) meeting, the committee (which you are a part of) will discuss what continuum of services will best meet your child’s individual needs. They will be written in your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). Each of these services can be adjusted to meet your child’s individual strengths and needs.
ECSE services include special education instruction and what are called “related services,” some of which include speech therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy.
Learn more about Related Services in Special Education.
Sometimes children have “speech-only” services which means they get speech-language therapy and no other instructional support. If your child has “speech-only” services, the speech language pathologist (SLP) will be your child’s main contact. Your child will not receive any additional services from a special education (or ECSE) teacher.
If your child receives “speech-only” services he may go to a local public school campus for his speech-language therapy sessions. However, some school districts offer speech services in other settings such as a child development center, Head Start, or a private preschool.
Classroom-based services are services in a classroom setting in a public school provided by a special education teacher (ECSE teacher). However, some school districts offer classroom-based services in other settings such as a child development center, Head Start, or a private preschool. A child can also receive related services in these settings.