Caring for those in Need

What Families Need to Know About Transition from Early Intervention to Preschool

Many families moving their child from early intervention (birth to age 3) to the educational system are surprised at the differences between the two systems.

BY Lauren Agoratus, M.A. | April 2022 | Category: Autism Awareness

What Families Need to Know About Transition from Early Intervention to Preschool

Early Intervention

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) covers both Early Intervention (Part C) and special education (Part B).  But some parents describe Early Intervention (EI) as a “warm, fuzzy” environment as opposed to the more bureaucratic school district system. In EI the emphasis is on the child and family, and an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) is developed; in the school district the central point is the child and their academic, behavioral, and functional achievement, and an Individualized Education Program (IEP) is developed. However, both systems have structures in place which focus on best outcomes for children. For young children in EI, this may center on:

  • Social/emotional skills: This includes relating appropriately to other children and adults.
  • Use of knowledge/skills: Under this category, this includes paying attention, language acquisition, and following directions.
  • Appropriate behaviors: Emotional regulation, communicating needs appropriately, and skills for independence (e.g. dressing) are included here.

EI services may include developmental intervention; physical, occupational, or speech therapy; assistive technology; and family education and counseling, among other services. Early Intervention transition should start at approximately age 2 ½, not waiting until age 3. Families will need to then work with the special education system in their district to determine whether their child is eligible for special education, and what services their child needs. 

Preschool Child with a Disability

A transition conference should be held with parental consent to determine if the child is eligible for services. The Early Intervention and school district representatives meet with the family to develop a transition plan. Although EI reports are not part of the child’s permanent educational record, this data may help inform determinations on eligibility, goals and objectives, and the services the child may need. Some common “related services” in special education include but are not limited to speech, occupational, or physical therapy; psychological services; and parent counseling and training.

Natural Environments and Least Restrictive Environment

Early Intervention programs seek to provide services to young children in their “natural environments”. In this way, children up to age 3 will have a better chance of “generalizing” skills they’ve learned into use in the real world. It is also important that any testing be done in a familiar environment in which the child is comfortable in order to get the most accurate results.

Preschool children have the right to a free, appropriate public education (FAPE) in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). This means that first consideration must be given to the school the child would have attended if s/he didn’t have a disability. According to IDEA, alternate placement only occurs if appropriate supports and services are unsuccessful. Inclusion isn’t “dumping” a child into the general education environment to “sink or swim.” Inclusion is actually mutually beneficial to children both with and without disabilities, as both improve academically due to the use of differentiated instructional techniques (different ways of teaching). 

Procedural safeguards for families

Both Early Intervention and the educational system have safeguards in place for families. It is important to remember that parents are part of the team that develops the IFSP or IEP. However, if there is a disagreement, there are steps families can take:

  • Use effective communication to build positive relationships
  • Know your child’s rights and the responsibilities of the EI or educational system
  • Keep the focus on the child, their strengths and needs.
  • For both EI and the school system, safeguards include:
  • Parental consent
  • Mediation (a more informal conflict resolution process with a neutral third party)
  • Due Process (a more formal hearing)

Families can contact their Parent Center to discuss protections in either EI or school (see Resources below). 

Parents need to be prepared to transition their children from Early Intervention services to the school district where the child will receive their special education and related services.


Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center

Early Intervention contacts in each state 

Child Outcomes 

Transition from Part C to Preschool 

Understanding Procedural Safeguards (Part C) 

Parent Training and Information Centers

Find your Parent Center 

Transition to Preschool 

Transition to Preschool and Other Programs

(IDEA Part C regulations) 

SPAN Parent Advocacy Network

Transition to Preschool-video series 


Lauren Agoratus, M.A. is the NJ Coordinator for Family Voices, NJ Regional Coordinator for the Family-to-Family Health Information Center, and Product Development Coordinator for RAISE (Resources for Advocacy, Independence, Self-Determination, and Employment). She also serves as NJ representative for the Caregiver Community Action Network as a volunteer. Nationally, Lauren has served on the Center for Dignity in Healthcare for People with Disabilities transplant committee (antidiscrimination), Center for Health Care Strategies Medicaid Workgroup on Family Engagement, Family Advisor for Children & Youth with Special Health Care Needs National Research Network,National Quality Forum-Pediatric Measures Steering Committee, and Population Health for Children with Medical Complexity Project-UCLA. She has written blogs and articles nationally, including publications in 2 academic journals ( Lauren was recently named a Hero Advocate by Exceptional Parent Magazine ( 

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