Supporting Children with Disabilities or Suspected Delays

Toddler looking into the camera.If a home visitor has not had personal experience with disability or mental health issues in young children, it may be daunting for them to provide home-based services for a child with special needs. As a supervisor, you can support professional development opportunities that enhance home visitors’ knowledge, skills, and practices for ongoing work with families and children with disabilities or suspected delays. (See Working with Children with Disabilities in the Home Visitor’s Online Handbook.)

Each Early Head Start or combined Head Start and Early Head Start program is required to have at least 10 percent of their children identified as eligible for intervention services by the state or local agency providing services under the IDEA45 CFR §1302.14(b)(1)). Your program's disability manager can help you support home visitors in their ongoing work with children with disabilities.

Each Early Head Start program is required to have a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with its local early intervention provider. Part C of the IDEA (20 U.S.C. 1431 et seq. requires each state to manage its own federally funded early intervention program for infants and toddlers. Head Start programs must have an MOU with the local education agency responsible for providing identification and special education services for children between ages 3 and 5, under Section 619 of IDEA Part B (20 U.S.C. 1411 et seq.). The collaboration between early intervention and Early Head Start benefits each agency and helps meet the needs of more infants and toddlers with disabilities in your community.

If the child qualifies for services under your state's definition of a developmental delay, the child should receive appropriate services. Such services may include special education, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy.

Home visitors will also learn about the child's likes, dislikes, interests, and learning goals by being a careful observer. Parents and home visitors work together to learn how to read the subtle signals of a child with motor, central nervous system, or sensory impairment. Along with advice from the IDEA team, home visitors will bring their knowledge of how to understand children and engage them in learning.

The families of infants and toddlers will have an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) that describes each family's goals for the child and how they will be achieved. The preschooler will have an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Some programs use that plan as the basis for the family partnership agreement or the child's school readiness goals, adding pieces about the family's own goals for education, work, or being self-sustaining.

Home visitors may also help by finding additional resources such as Parent Education and Information Centers, finding local and national organizations devoted to a particular disability, or connecting families with other parents of children with disabilities. The child's health care provider is also an important member of the team, who supports the family's individualized goals for their child and may be able to provide additional resources or referrals. Socializations offer important opportunities for families with children with disabilities to be in a supportive, welcoming, and inclusive community.

Learn More

About Specific Disabilities

The Center for Parent Information and Resources provides detailed fact sheets about specific disabilities. Each fact sheet defines the disability, describes its characteristics, offers tips for parents and teachers, and identifies information and organizations with expertise in that disability.

Resources Supporting Individualization

This collection of resources provides information about evidence-based practices that support individualization and are aligned with the Head Start ELOF. The resources are organized around the eight topic areas identified in the Division for Early Childhood (DEC) Recommended Practices.