Every state has a government funded early intervention program for children age birth to three years old. The reason these were created is because early intervention (EI) is so important when children either already have delays or disabilities or they are at risk for delay. First Steps is Indiana’s EI program. First Steps offers speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, feeding/nutritionist intervention, developmental therapy, etc. These services are usually free or low cost to the family.
How can you get enrolled in First Steps?
There are two ways to get the ball rolling with First Steps. You can do a self-referral by calling them yourself or you can go through your pediatrician and ask him or her to write a script and submit it for you. Here is the link to the “clusters” in Indiana with the phone number of who to contact: https://www.in.gov/fssa/ddrs/4819.htm
What happens after First Steps is contacted?
After First Steps receives your referral they will schedule an evaluation. They will send two therapists from the evaluation team. Sometimes they will be a PT and speech, sometimes OT and DT, depending on who is available and what concerns there are for the child. They will spend at least an hour interviewing you and observing/engaging with your child to get an idea of his or her skill level across a very wide range of developmental domains. Ideally these evaluations (and follow-up therapy, if warranted) will take place in the natural environment – normally the child’s home. Some children are seen at daycare or places around town where the family would normally go (the playground, grocery store, etc.).
(Please note that while a doctor’s script is not required for evaluations, it IS a requirement for therapy services.)
What happens if your child qualifies?
A service coordinator will come to your house to go over the evaluation and service offerings. Most (but not all) therapies will be once a week for 60 minute sessions in your home. There is a long wait list for some services so you may only receive one in the beginning even if your child qualifies for two or more disciplines. You may also receive a developmental therapist instead of a PT/OT/Speech therapist depending on availability. It’s important to be flexible with your schedule due to the limited availability of services.
What happens when your child turns three?
Starting ON your child’s third birthday, they are no longer eligible for First Steps as they will have “aged out”. Prior to their birthday, the service coordinator should be in touch to schedule meetings with the local public preschool to see if your child will qualify there. Legally, the public school system is responsible for therapies for children once they turn three.
I used to contract with First Steps more frequently than I do now but I’m still very much involved with them and will likely continue to take clients here and there. If you have any questions about First Steps, feel free to ask me! I want parents to know about ALL of their options, even outside of private pay with me! 🙂