Called Early Stages, its staff provides developmental screenings and evaluations for young children, and lays the groundwork for services if they’re needed. And it doesn’t cost parents and guardians a penny.
As one of Early Stages’ Child Find Field Coordinators, it’s Nikolas Walker’s job to get the word out. He answers our questions below.
Forest Hills Connection: Some parents I’ve talked to think Early Stages is only for children with more severe physical and learning disabilities. Who is eligible for the service?
Nikolas Walker: Early Stages is a developmental diagnostic center for children between the ages of 2 years 8 months and 5 years 10 months. We can serve any child who lives in the District who attends a DC Public School, is home schooled, or is not yet attending school. We can also serve students who attend a private school in the District, even if they live outside the District. If a student attends a charter school, please call us. We may be able to serve the student, or we will connect the student’s family with someone at their charter school who can.
What kind of help is available?
Early Stages provides full educational evaluations for all children about whom there are concerns, and arranges services for children with a diagnosed disability. Therefore, we encourage any parent with concerns about the development of their child to make a referral to Early Stages.
The services that Early Stages can recommend include specialized instruction, speech and language therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, psychological services, and behavioral support services.
How do families find out if their child is eligible for services? Do they have to work through a school or can they get in touch with Early Stages on their own?
Anyone can make a referral to Early Stages to begin the developmental screening and evaluation process. We take referrals directly from family members as well as from third party referrers such as teachers, pediatricians, and caregivers. Referrals can be made online at www.earlystagesdc.org, by calling our main office at 202-698-8037, or by sending an email to email@example.com. Referral forms can also be filled out and faxed to 202-654-6079. Referral forms are available for download at earlystagesdc.org.
What is the Early Stages screening process?
After a referral is made, a Child Find coordinator will reach out to the parent or guardian of the referred child to determine if they would like to complete a developmental screening for their child. We use the Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ) developmental screening tool, which can be performed in-person or over the phone with a parent. The screening helps to identify any areas of concern regarding a child’s development, which helps determine what areas may require further evaluation.
If further evaluation is warranted, the evaluation will take place at one of our two locations:
Early Stages Center at Walker-Jones Education Campus
1125 New Jersey Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20001
Early Stages Center at Minnesota Avenue
4058 Minnesota Avenue NE
Washington, DC 20019
These evaluations are used to help determine if a child is eligible for special education services. Early Stages can conduct educational assessments, as well as speech and language, physical therapy, occupational therapy, psychological/cognitive, and audiological assessments. They will also consider additional information from parents, schools, medical providers and other caregivers, as appropriate. A team consisting of Early Stages’ staff and the parents will then meet together to determine whether a child is eligible for services. Children found eligible will receive an Individualized Education Program (IEP) that specifies the services the student will receive and goals for his or her development. These services are always provided in a DC Public School.
What if the child goes to a private school?
Children attending a private school in the District have the right to a full educational evaluation at Early Stages as well. District residents enrolled in a private school will be offered an IEP and may be offered a seat in a DCPS school, depending on the child’s needs. Maryland and Virginia residents and District parents who prefer to maintain their child’s enrollment in their private school may still be eligible to receive up to one hour each of speech therapy, occupational therapy, and/or physical therapy per week in the form of an Individual Service Plan (ISP). These services are still provided in a DCPS school and parents are generally responsible for arranging necessary transportation.
What about kids at charter schools?
As regards charter schools, those cases are handled differently depending on the structure of the school. Therefore, we encourage parents to reach out to us should they have any questions, and we can let them know exactly what the options are depending on the school their child attends.
How much does it cost?
All of the services that Early Stages offers are always FREE, including developmental screenings, evaluations, and services provided through an IEP or ISP. These are services that every eligible child has a right to access by law. Therefore, Early Stages will never charge any family.
Once a child is receiving services, do they age out when they reach the age of 5 years, ten months? When do services end?
At Early Stages, we write an initial IEP for a student, which travels with the child to school. These IEPs have educational goals for the student to achieve, and special education services will continue to be provided as long as they are necessary. Services do not end when a student reaches a specific age; only when the student no longer requires them in order to access a free, appropriate public education.
Student progress is regularly measured and IEPs are reviewed and revised as necessary, but at least once per year to ensure that they are still appropriate. Students with an IEP receive a re-evaluation every three years. Parents can always work with their school and request that any of these steps be repeated with more frequency.
What if you have a child younger than 2 years, 8 months, and you have concerns about his or her development? Does the District have a program for that as well?
Yes! Through the Office of the State Superintendent for Education (OSSE), there is a department called Strong Start, which takes referrals, screens, evaluates and provides services to address developmental concerns for children from birth to 2 years 8 months. Similar to Early Stages, Strong Start identifies and evaluates children who might be eligible for support services, and recommends services for those children who are eligible. Their office can be reached at 202-727-3665 for general inquiries or to make a referral.
Have more questions about Early Stages? Their main office can be reached at 202-698-8037. Nikolas Walker can also be reached directly at 202-573-4433 or firstname.lastname@example.org.