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Resources are available for children under the age of 3 to attain services for developmental disabilities in each of the United States. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA) created a federal mandate designed to ensure that children with disabilities will have access to publicly funded and appropriate educational services up to the age of 21. The IDEIA is national in scope, however the implementation is left to the states, which has created a discrepancy in how the services are made available to the people in each state.

A recent article in Science Daily, Enrollment in early intervention services may be influenced by administering agency, highlighted the findings of a study published in the Journal of Early Intervention, concerning research from the University of Oregon. Erica Twardzik, Megan MacDonald, and Alicia Dixon-Ibarra found that many children under 3, who have or are at risk of a developmental disability, are eligible for early intervention services but are not taking advantage of these benefits. These service are designed to “improve cognitive, behavioral and physical skills.” Delays in the acquisition of these services can lead to a wider gap as these children enter school.

The researchers in this study examined a wide variety of data from sources such as the U.S Census, the National Surveys of Children’s Health, and various state agency websites. Not surprisingly, the study found that states that implemented the program through health-related agencies had higher access rates to these services than states implementing the program through education-related agencies. Education-related agencies typically do not come in contact with children under 3 as they are not enrolled at that age, while health-related agencies rely on the interactions with physicians.

The study concludes that regardless of the agencies involved, states would benefit from better educating parents as to the “importance of developmental assessments and availability of services” as “key to ensuring children get off to a good start.” The effective implementation of early development services may have a wide variety of benefits, including the reduction for the need for some special education services once these children enter school, the allowance of inclusionary practices, and cost savings for the state. Each state, and the appropriate agencies, can better encourage parents and physicians to explore the programs that are available to assess and address potential difficulties and improve the chances for the better development of the students.

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