From Early Intervention to Preschool

When your child reaches preschool age, they are likely to participate in various programs or schools outside your home. From childcare to Early Intervention programs, special education to mainstream community preschool, there are several options for children with special needs at this age. No matter which types of programs make the most sense for your child, this will certainly be a time of transition. For many children, the consideration of preschool options will begin around their second birthday. Some children may already have begun working with Early Intervention. For other children, preschool may present their first referral for services of any kind. On this page you will find information and tips about how to navigate transitions between home, Early Intervention, community or special education preschool, and/or childcare.

Navigating Transitions

If your child did not receive services through the Early Intervention Program and you have concerns about their development, speech, vision, motor skills, hearing, etc., contact your local education agency (preschool directors) and request an evaluation to determine if your child can qualify for school services. See School Districts (see NW providers [0]) for further information about services they provide.

Even if your child does not qualify for Special Education services during the first evaluation, you may want to pursue another evaluation, or explore other options available for children who are not eligible for special education services (see What If My Child Is Not Eligible for Special Education Services? below). Your child may be eligible for special education services in the future, especially if other needs or concerns arise. Of course, you’ll want to make sure your child has the best and most appropriate education.

Building New Skills with Your Preschooler

For many children, preschool age is the time to begin learning a few general self-care skills, as this is an age when children are likely to begin spending more time away from their parents. Children will gain independence by learning skills like brushing their teeth or hair, getting dressed or how to use the toilet. This is also the age when you and your child’s medical home might begin teaching your child about their condition, and helping them develop self-care skills specifically related to that condition or their medical needs. For example, if your child has a tracheostomy, this might be an appropriate age for them to learn to let a caregiver know when they need to be suctioned, or if your child has a cochlear implant, it is important for them to learn about the care of that device.

Some preschool children will be ready to accept new responsibilities. You can assign them age-and ability-appropriate chores to complete at home. These might include something as simple as feeding a family pet, or putting away their toys after they play with them. If your child has disabilities that limit them in doing physical chores, have them assist you to the best of their ability, for example, handing things to you to put away, telling you how many scoops of dog food go in the bowl. Even helping in small ways can seem big for them, and can give your child a greater sense of purpose and inclusion.

Look for ways to help your child begin to develop decision-making skills by presenting them with options to choose from throughout the day. For example, you might ask them to choose between two options for breakfast (cereal or eggs?), allow them to pick out their clothing for the day, or have them help choose the dinner menu. Having a choice helps children of all abilities to feel independent and empowered. It is also important to remember that children of preschool age are still developing decision-making skills, so choosing between two things may be plenty for them.

If your child will be attending school or childcare outside the home, you and your child’s clinician(s) can communicate with the school team or caregivers about necessary accommodations. You may need to collaborate with the school nurse or caregivers to develop a Health Care Plan and an Emergency Plan. If your child has specific needs, like medications they must take during the day, or GTube feedings, you will want to assure that the school or childcare has such orders in writing and that you have answered any questions or concerns they may express.

Transitioning from Early Intervention to Preschool or Daycare

For those children who have been enrolled in Early Intervention programs, the process of transitioning from E.I. into preschool must be completed on or before your child’s third birthday, in order to guarantee a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). Some children will qualify for various school services, while others will need to find community services. Children who were able to participate in Early Intervention do not automatically qualify for Special Education preschool. (Alternatives are listed at the end of this document.) Your child’s eligibility for services from the local education agency (LEA or school) is determined in three parts (each is explained in greater detail below):

  1. The Second Birthday Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) Meeting
  2. The 90- or 120- Day Transition Meeting
  3. The Individualized Education Program (IEP) Meeting

Second Birthday Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) Meeting

Around the time of your child’s second birthday, you’ll need to schedule a meeting with your child’s Early Intervention service coordinator and other appropriate people, such as the District Special Education Preschool Consultant, therapists that have worked with your child and therapists who might work with them in the school setting. This meeting is intended to provide families with an orientation to general transition topics, which will become more individualized to the specific needs of your child as they grow. Topics discussed during the meeting may include your child’s needs, available services and educational alternatives, and the referral/evaluation processes. You might discuss the ways E.I. and Special Ed preschool programs differ, and you’ll begin to set goals that will prepare your child for the steps ahead of them. Finally, you’ll plan for the upcoming 90-120 Day Transition meeting, which will be held at least 90 days before your child’s third birthday. You can prepare for the Second Birthday IFSP meeting by preparing your questions and concerns ahead of time.

Points to Address in the Second Birthday IFSP Meeting

In order to develop individualized results for the child and their family, the following questions should be addressed:
  • What information does the family need regarding the transition process?
  • What skills are needed to prepare the child for the preschool environment?
  • What additional support is needed to aid participation in the preschool environment?

After the Second Birthday IFSP Meeting

Once your child's needs are identified, a plan is developed to prepare them for preschool. The child-based goals, or outcomes, detailed in the plan will vary, but it’s likely they will include things like having your child practice spending time away from you (to prepare to spend days at preschool), learning to drink from a cup or eat finger foods (in order to be ready to eat snacks with friends at school), or developing listening skills and learning to follow one- or two-step directions given by a teacher or child caregiver. You should leave this meeting with some goals in mind for you and your child, and with a plan for how to best prepare your child for the next steps in their life.

The 90-120 Day Transition Meeting

It is a federal requirement that this meeting be held at least 90 days (3 months) before your child’s 3rd birthday. This meeting will include you (the parent(s) or guardians), a representative of the local education agency (LEA), the Early Intervention service coordinator, therapists, and if appropriate, a representative of the state education agency for the deaf and blind. If there are other people that have been or will be important in structuring your child’s education, you may invite them to contribute information or support. To prepare for this meeting, you should gather all medical evaluations, healthcare information, therapy reports, and any other pertinent information about your child.

Points to Address at the 90-120 Day Transition Meeting

  • Revise and enhance the transition plan that was started at the Second Birthday IFSP meeting.
  • Establish processes, timelines, and responsibilities for eligibility determination.
  • Identify necessary and possible preschool services, and arrange to visit preschool classrooms your child might attend.
  • Complete the referral for the early childhood special education program.
  • Identify any additional necessary child and family goals (outcomes) to help prepare your child for preschool.
  • Ensure that, if your child is eligible, they receive a free and appropriate public education (FAPE).

The Individualized Education Program (IEP) Meeting

If your child has been determined eligible for Special Education and related services, they must have an Individualized Education Program (IEP), and this program will be planned at the third and final preschool transition meeting. School Services may include one, two, three, or four days of preschool and Occupational, Physical or Speech therapy per week. The IEP team determines how much and where these services are delivered.

The IEP meeting allows for the IEP team* to work together to develop an plan unique to your child's abilities and needs. The team will discuss and write realistic goals for your child and agree on a way to track outcomes and have recorded results by the next IEP meeting. The people required (the IEP Team) at this meeting are you (the parent(s) or guardians), the regular education teacher and the Special Education teacher from your child’s local school, a representative of the LEA, the Early Intervention service coordinator, and an individual who is qualified to interpret evaluation results. Depending on the student's needs, related service providers such as therapists and nurses should also be invited to this meeting.

Points to Address at the IEP Meeting

  • Determine eligibility for Special Education services. For more details, see: School Accommodations: IEPs & 504s.
  • Develop the IEP document, which may include a health care plan, a behavioral intervention plan, and/or an emergency plan.
  • Determine appropriate school or classroom placement.

Remember, if your child is in an Early Intervention program and qualifies for Special Education, the IEP must be in effect by age three.

*"Team" may refer to the IEP, health plan, or school accommodation team.

What If My Child Is Not Eligible for Special Education Services?

If the child does not qualify for Special Education services there are several options to pursue:

  • Consider applying for Head Start, a program directed at low-income and migrant families, but children with disabilities may be eligible for Head Start regardless of family income. For services Head Start/Early Head Start (see NW providers [0]).
  • Enroll your child in a regular preschool through the public school system. Check with your local school district for information on a preschool program near you. One advantage of enrolling in a regular public preschool is that the school system can get to know your child and may be able to direct you to more services through the school system. See Services Directory for Utah preschools and school districts.
  • Enroll your child in a childcare/daycare center where he will receive care and basic educational services in socialization, art, games, etc. Resources for Child Care Providers (see NW providers [1]).
  • Seek out additional programs in your community, including playgroups, private preschools or therapies, where your child can develop the skills they need.

The Big Day: What to Expect When Your Child Begins Preschool

By the time your child actually begins preschool, it’s likely you’ve been preparing for over a year. However, this can still be a big change for you and your child. How you handle and view this transition can influence your child's adjustment. Aim to support their independence and celebrate their successes, but remember that you know best whether your child's temperament, abilities, and birth-date make them "ready" for school. Trust your own judgment. Talk with your friends and family members, but do not rely only on their assessments of your child’s preparedness or abilities. Watch your child for signs of stress, and make sure to have open communication with their teacher or caregiver about your concerns. Offer to come and observe your child in class, this sometimes helps because you know your child best, and might be able to give the teacher tips on why your child may have certain behaviors, aversions, etc., and ways to work with them. If things are still not going well for your child, and you and the teacher cannot seem to find solutions that help, you may need to consider a new placement. Don't force the child to continue in the same setting if the school experience is more traumatizing than it is educational or fun. The IEP Team may be able to come up with a better alternative to the current placement.

Here are a few reminders to help you and your child with the transition to preschool:

  • Prepare yourself for the separation and possible feelings of anxiety or grief.
  • Do your homework: decide what type of environment and experience you want for your child. Visit several schools if possible.
  • Set realistic expectations by selecting an environment that matches your child's ability, interests, and personality.
  • Assess your child's readiness: is your child emotionally and physically ready to start preschool?
  • Expect behavior changes: your child may regress or exhibit behaviors they have learned from other children.
  • Develop routines and positive expectations: prepare your child ahead of time by visiting the facility, arranging for separation experiences, adjusting bedtimes, etc.
  • Trust your instincts and intuition.


Information & Support

For Parents and Patients

Transition Tips for Parents of Young Children with Disabilities (PDF Document 447 KB)
This pamphlet developed by Shriners Hospital for Children, also called First Steps, provides information for parents on helping a child stay physically and emotionally healthy; beginning to involve a child in her own health care; encouraging independence; and resources and websites.

Services for Patients & Families Nationwide (NW)

For services not listed above, browse our Services categories or search our database.

* number of provider listings may vary by how states categorize services, whether providers are listed by organization or individual, how services are organized in the state, and other factors; Nationwide (NW) providers are generally limited to web-based services, provider locator services, and organizations that serve children from across the nation.

Authors & Reviewers

Initial publication: July 2008; last update/revision: July 2023
Current Authors and Reviewers:
Author: Gina Pola-Money
Reviewer: Abby Dumas
Authoring history
2008: revision: Alfred N. Romeo, RN, PhDR
2005: first version: Robin PrattCA; Barbara Ward, RN BSCA; Cheralyn CreerCA; Karen Ekker, RNCA; Carolyn Green, RNCA; Lynne Larsen-MillerCA; Elaine PollockCA; Kathryn PostCA; Helen PostCA; Lisa Samson-Fang, MDCA
AAuthor; CAContributing Author; SASenior Author; RReviewer