National Early Intervention Trends

Definition of early intervention services

A frequently cited definition is "a system of coordinated services that promotes the child's growth and development and supports families during the critical early years." The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act bases eligibility for early intervention or Part C services on identified delays in one or more of five developmental domains or an established condition (see Part C information).

Early intervention outcomes

A high percentage of children who have received early intervention services demonstrated greater than expected growth across all measured domains. Over half of the children demonstrated skills within age expectations after completing early intervention programs. Parents also report positive gains and experiences from early intervention services.


For the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act 2011 federal child count, states reported 331,627 infants and toddlers receiving early intervention services, an increase of more than 40 percent since 2001.


Federal funding for Part C services in 2012 was approximately $442.7 million. This is consistent with funding levels since 2004 although the number of children served increased approximately 25 percent.

Early intervention personnel shortage

Nearly all states report early intervention personnel shortages. "Personnel Shortages" was the most common reason given by states for not providing early intervention services in a timely fashion.

Evidence-based practices

Research on evidence-based practices has focused on the types of supports offered to children and their families as well as the locations in which the services are provided. A National Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center workgroup recently developed the Seven Principles and Practices in Natural Environments (see Figure 1). These principles indicate a shift towards an integrated team-based model that supports the role of families and creates natural learning opportunities for children. The primary service provider model identifies one team member to provide all services in consultation with other professionals. Routine based interventions is a family-centered model that embeds learning opportunities throughout the child's daily activities.

Natural environments

Fall 2011 federal data indicates 94 percent of eligible children were served in home/community settings.

Transition from early intervention to school age services

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires the transition from Part C to Part B (school age) services be completed by a child's third birthday. The most current data suggests that states are continuing to improve, with approximately 95 percent of infants and toddlers having their transition conferences completed on time.

Figure 1: National Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center Seven Principles and Practices

  1. Infants and toddlers learn best through everyday experiences and interactions with familiar people in familiar contexts.
  2. All families, with the necessary supports and resources, can enhance their children's learning and development.
  3. The primary role of the service provider is to work with and support the family members and caregivers in a child's life.
  4. The early intervention process, from initial contacts through transition, must be dynamic and individualized to reflect the child's and family members' preferences, learning styles and cultural beliefs.
  5. Individual family service plan outcomes must be functional and based on children's and families' needs and priorities.
  6. The family's priorities needs and interests are addressed most appropriately by a primary provider who represents and receives team and community support.
  7. Interventions with young children and family members must be based on explicit principles, validated practices, best available research and relevant laws and regulations.

Infants and toddlers with autism spectrum disorders

A recent study suggested autism spectrum disorder characteristics can be reliably identified as young as 12 months and a stable diagnosis made between 18 and 36 months, compared to the current average age of 48 months.1 Proponents believe early identification allows children to receive services earlier which promotes more typical skill development. Others suggest that focusing on early identification may lead to over-identification. Identifying appropriate strategies to use with young children with autism spectrum disorders is an issue since most research has focused on older children.

1 Karen Pierce, et. al. "Detecting, Studying, and Treating Autism Early: The One-Year Well-Baby Check-Up Approach", The Journal of Pediatrics Volume 159:3 (September 2011): 458-465. Published online April 29, 2011.