Early Childhood Special Education

Early Childhood Special Education

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General Information: It is the policy of the State of Missouri that all children with disabilities, residing in the state are identified, located, and evaluated.  School districts and other public agencies responsible for providing special education must offer a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) to children who have been identified as eligible under the eligibility criteria outlined in the Missouri State Plan for Special Education as early as a child's third birthdate.  Special Education and related services for pre-school age is referred to as early childhood special education (ECSE).


Parents of children who are three-to-five years old or approaching age three who suspect their child may have a developmental delay or disabling condition that may affect them educationally, may contact their local school district to make a referral for evaluation to determine eligibility for special education services.


ECSE services are supported by Federal funding under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) as well as state general revenue funds.​ There is no cost to parents of ECSE children for services identified in a child's Individualized Education Program (IEP).


How to make a referral to the Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE) program

Parents of a child, who is 3-5 years old or approaching age 3 who suspect their child may have a developmental delay or disabling condition that may affect the child educationally, are encouraged to contact the local school district to make a referral for an evaluation. If a child approaching the age of 3 is already receiving services in Missouri's First Steps system, by the age of 2 years 9 months, a transition meeting will be held and, with permission from the child's parent(s), the local school district will attend that meeting to discuss the ECSE program. At this time the parent(s) will be given a copy of the Procedural Safeguards for Children and Parents statement. This explains the rights afforded to parent(s) and children in the ECSE program.



Process after a Referral is made

Within 30 days of the referral, the local school district will determine if an evaluation of the child is necessary. If it is decided that an evaluation is warranted, a review of existing data, including information from the parent(s), will be conducted by a group of individuals including: the child's parent(s), a representative of the school district, a special education teacher, an individual qualified to interpret the instructional implications of evaluation results and other individuals, as appropriate. If this group concludes that additional data is needed to determine: 

  • The child's eligibility for ECSE
  • ​The child's need for special education and related services
  • The child's present level of educational performance
  • Any modification or accommodation necessary to allow the child to meet the goals of an IEP

The parent(s) will be notified of the school district's intent to evaluate. A written parental consent to continue the evaluation process may be required depending on needed assessments.


Evaluation Process

In conducting the evaluation, the public agency must:

  • Use a variety of assessment tools and strategies to gather relevant, functional and developmental information, including information provided by the parent(s), that may assist in determining whether the child is a child with a disability and, if found eligible, the content of the IEP, including information related to enabling the child to participate in appropriate activities;
  • Not use any single procedure as a sole criterion for determining whether a child is a child with a disability or determining an appropriate educational program for the child; and
  • Use technically sound instruments that may assess the relative contribution of cognitive and behavioral factors, in addition to physical or developmental factors.

Within 60 days of written parental consent to evaluate, the school district will hold an eligibility determination meeting with the parent(s) to review the results of the evaluation and to come to a decision regarding the child's eligibility for ECSE services. If the child is found eligible, within 30 days, an Individualized Education Program (IEP) will be developed outlining the child's present level of functioning, educational goals, and objectives, and the special education and related services the child will receive.

Factors in Determining Eligibility

School districts have the option of identifying a child as eligible under the category of Young Child with a Developmental Delay (YCDD) or under one of the other fourteen eligibility categories that are used for children ages 5 to 21.  In order to be eligible under the YCDD category, the child's development must be at or below 1.5 standard deviations or equivalent levels, of the mean in any two areas of development, or at or below 2.0 standard deviations or equivalent levels in one area of development, and the child must need special education and related services.  Areas of development that can be used to determine eligibility include:

  • physical
  • cognitive
  • communication
  • social/emotional
  • adaptive


Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE) Services

Special Education means specially designed instruction, at no cost to the parent, to meet the unique needs of child with a disability.

Specially designed instruction means adapting, as appropriate, the content, methodology or delivery of instruction to address the unique needs of a child with a disability to ensure access of the child to the general curriculum, so that he or she can meet the educational standards of the public agency that apply to all children. 

Related services are such developmental, corrective and other supportive services as required to assist the child to benefit from special education and include:

  • Medical services (for evaluation purposes)
  • Occupational therapy
  • Orientation and mobility services
  • Physical therapy
  • School health services
  • Speech-language pathology

Program Location

Early Childhood Special Education Services (ECSE) are provided in all areas of the state. It is the responsibility of the local school district to ensure that any 3-5 year old child with a disability receives appropriate special education and related services. If a district's size or resources do not make it feasible to provide the services needed to meet the unique needs of all preschool children with disabilities in their district, they may choose to contract with private agencies, private individual contractors or other school districts to make available appropriate services. 

Services for preschool children with disabilities can be provided in a variety of settings. Where possible and appropriate, services are provided in the environment where the child typically spends his or her day (community childcare facility, Head Start, Title I, school district preschool programs, etc.); however, some children may require services provided in a group setting primarily designed for children with disabilities or individual or small group services in a setting such as a public school building. Services may be provided to children on a one-to-one basis, in small groups, or in a classroom setting. At least annually, the IEP team must determine if the child will participate 100% of the time in an integrated setting with non-disabled peers because the IEP requires it.