The road ahead will be bumpy. As your child grows up, you will celebrate many successes. And there may be times when progress stalls or takes an unexpected turn. When it does, remind yourself that these are speed bumps, not roadblocks. Take them one at a time. Many services are available to treat and educate your child. After a diagnosis, start exploring services as soon as possible.

Early intervention services for children under 3

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) specifies that children with various disabilities, including autism, are entitled to early intervention (EI) and special education services. EI refers to services and supports for children from birth through age 3 who have developmental delays and disabilities. IDEA provides states with federal grants to offer EI programs. EI services are designed to give children with disabilities the skills they need to adapt to and engage with the world around them. Services for your child may include, but are not limited to:

Family services may include counseling and training sessions to help families understand autism and learn strategies to support their child. EI services can vary widely from state to state and region to region. However, the services should address your child’s unique needs and should not be limited to what is currently available where you live.

Your child must undergo an early intervention evaluation to determine if they qualify for services. After the evaluation, you will meet with your child’s service providers to develop an Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP). The IFSP is a document that spells out your child’s needs and the services to be provided based on the EI evaluation. It describes your child’s current levels of functioning and development goals. It also lists specific services to be provided to your child and your family. To find EI services in your state, visit:

Special education services for children ages 3 and over

IDEA mandates a public education for all eligible children and makes the schools responsible for providing the supports and services to allow this to happen. It is important to note that an autism diagnosis does not mean your child will automatically qualify for special education services. Schools will need to conduct a special education evaluation to determine eligibility for services.

If your child is found to be eligible, the school will then use the evaluations to develop a plan based on your child’s strengths and challenges. The law mandates that states provide eligible children with a free appropriate public education (FAPE) that meets their unique needs in the least restrictive environment (LRE).

IDEA establishes an important team approach in education. You, as a parent, are an equal partner with the school district in defining an education plan to meet your child’s individual needs. This enables you to be a powerful advocate for your child.

It also means that you must be an informed, active participant in planning and monitoring your child’s progress and legal rights. The document that spells out your child’s education needs and how these needs will be met is the Individualized Education Program (IEP). You are an important member of your child’s IEP team. Like the IFSP, the IEP:

  • Describes your child’s strengths and challenges
  • Sets goals and objectives
  • Details how these can be met through services such as SLT, OT, PT, as well as specific special education supports, counseling and social skills training

The IEP is focused only on your child’s educational needs and how the school district plans to meet them. For more information about IEPs, visit the Autism Speaks Guide to Individualized Education Programs

A Section 504 plan is another resource that will help your child access services and supports at school. This plan outlines the accommodations your child will receive so they can learn to the best of their ability in a supportive environment. Even if your child does not require specialized instruction as outlined in an IEP, the 504 plan will lay out the specific services that will be provided to help support them in and out of the classroom.