Early Childhood Special Education

Early Childhood education and support is critical to the overall development of our youngest students. Through Early Childhood Special Education services, we can identify student development needs at an early age and help students be prepared for school entry.  In addition, services will continue as needed when a child reaches school age. 

Do You Know a Preschooler Struggling to Learn?

Children grow and develop at different rates, but most will reach several milestones between the ages of 3 and 5.  A child who is not meeting milestones and/or struggling to learn, may need additional supports to help them prepare for kindergarten.

There are a range of concerns that could potentially impact a child's ability to learn, including difficulties with speech and/or language, cognitive impairment, autism spectrum disorder, emotional concerns, traumatic brain injury, hearing or visual difficulties, early childhood developmental delays, or a specific learning disability.  Special education programs and/or supports are available to children ages 3, 4, and 5 through the local school district.  Intervening as early as possible can, in many cases resolve, or at least limit, a child's roadblock to learning. 

What Are Preschool SErvices and Where ARe They Located?

Michigan Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE) services include special instruction and related services provided to young children, ages 3 through 5, who qualify under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA, Part B, Section 619).  A Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) is offered to all eligible children at no cost to families, and in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE).  LRE means that young children with disabilities should get services in community-based preschool settings and programs whenever possible.  View the Pre-K Parent Toolkit  to learn tips and expert advice on how to support your preschooler's learning and overall development. 

Who is Eligible? 

Children ages 3 through 5 with a disability defined by one of the following categories are eligible for special education services:

  • Speech/Language Impairment
  • Specific Learning Disability
  • Cognitive Impairment
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Emotional Impairment
  • Traumatic Brain Injury
  • Hearing Impairment
  • Visual Impairment
  • Physical Impairment
  • Early Childhood Developmental Delay (ECDD)
  • Severe Multiple Impairment
  • Other Heatlh Impairment (including attention deficit disorder and health problems such as asthma, epilepsy, and diabetes)

More information can be found in the Parent Preschool Advocacy Brief at the National Center for Learning Disabilities.    

How do children access special education preschool services?

There are several ways children  may begin receiving services.  Children who are receiving early intervention services may begin special education preschool services:

  • Upon transition out of early intervention, typically at age 3;
  • Or, at the State's discretion, children who are age 2, but will turn 3 during the school year may receive special education preschool services.
  • Still other children are first identified and found eligible between the ages of 2 and 5; and thus, may begin receiving services as preschoolers.

One of the more common ways very young children become identified as needing special services lies in the process of attending regular well-baby and well-child check-ups with a pediatrician.  If there is a question or concern regarding a child's development, this can lead to comprehensive evaluations to determine if a child has a significant delay or disability and needs specialized help as a result.  

Before children are old enough  to attend public school, however, it is not uncommon for a babysitter, a daycare provider, or preschool staff to express concern to the child's family regarding a possible developmental or learning delay.  A suggestion may be made to contact the local Child Find office to have the child screened and/or evaluated to determine if there is an underlying problem or delay that might need to be addressed.  Such screenings cover a range of skill areas--vision and hearing, gross and fine motor skills, speech and language use, social and emotional behavior, and more. 

Families do not have to wait until someone suggests their child be screened.  If you are concerned about your child's development, you can contact the local Child Find office at Ingham Intermediate School District 517/244-4514 and arrange to have your child screened free of charge.  . 

How can you get connected? 

In addition to the assistance a child receives for a disability or developmental delay, there are other helpful resources for families, childcare providers, and educators: 

Contact Us


Kerns, Debra
Thorburn Education Center
Nicholson, Michelle
Thorburn Education Center
Roth, Emily
Thorburn Education Center