Age three is an important date for children with special needs.
Starting at age three, your child is "school aged" and ready to be considered for special education services. Prior to age three, your child may have qualified for early intervention services. If you are currently receiving early intervention services for your child, those services end at age three. Your district may attempt to end all support services at that time.
Massachusetts defines "disabled school aged children" as those between the ages of 3 and 21 who:
"if, because of a disability consisting of a developmental delay or any intellectual, sensory, neurological, emotional, communication, physical, specific learning or health impairment or combination thereof, is unable to progress effectively in regular education." M.G. L. Ch. 71B, §1.
If you believe your three year old may qualify for special education services, what can you do? You may ask your school district to perform an evaluation on your child. You may ask before your child's third birthday (while still receiving early intervention services).
Specifically, you may ask your school district to perform assessments, such as these: Speech/Language Assessment, Developmental Inventory Assessment, Occupational Therapy Assessment, and Physical Therapy Assessment.
Assessments will help to determine whether your child is qualified for special education, and if so, what course of action be taken. If your child qualifies, you and the school will develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for your child.
At any time, you may have your own evaluations done, especially if you know the nature of your child's disability and already have medical practitioners providing care for your child. They can make referrals for you.
You will be invited to a school meeting to discuss the results of the assessments with the team. If you don't agree with the recommendations of the school, you may ask that an independent evaluation be done at the school's expense.
You may also ask for mediation, a due process hearing, or you may file a complaint with the Board of Education. The process is the same, regardless of the age of your school-aged child, so you can read more about this on the page entitled "Snapshot of an IEP."
Please note that developmental delay is a disability qualifying your child for special education services. If your child was born prematurely, she may very well continue to have developmental delays as she grows to preschool age. There are many good books to read. One is A Parent's Guide to Developmental Delays: Recognizing & Coping with Missed Milestones in Speech, Movement, Learning and Other Areas by Laurie LeComer, M.Ed., (Berkeley 2006). It is available in public libraries, including the Robbins Library in Arlington, Massachusetts.
Upon completion of the IEP, children from three to five are given a "placement consent form" that differs from older students. Take a look at the consent form before you attend the team meeting. Here is a PDF of the form: Placement Consent Form 3-5 y.o. Blank.pdf .