Plain Language Summary: How to Locate Services Available to Individuals with Developmental Disabilities: Caregiver Perspective

Many parents and caregivers of children with developmental disabilities have difficulty navigating resources that can be helpful to them. Since some U.S. states provide varying services, the information provided below is based on what is available in the majority of states.

Early Intervention

Early intervention means providing therapy or other services to children before they start school. When you start treatment early in a child’s life, they learn skills needed to be successful later in life. Early intervention programs can help diagnose a developmental disability and provide helpful treatments.

Federal laws allow states to develop these programs for children up to 3 years old. These programs are often free or offered at a low cost. Each state’s early intervention programs can be found on the Center for Disease Control early intervention webpage.

School-Age Children

Children with developmental disabilities often struggle with school. There are several school-based services that can help. These include:

  • Individualized Education Programs (IEP): IEPs are plans of support provided by schools to students with disabilities. These plans list out services and any changes to the school’s curriculum that your child might need. IEPs also include academic goals for the child and are reviewed every year.
  • 504 Plan: Children who don’t qualify for an IEP may qualify for a 504 plan. 504 plans do not change the curriculum and provide accommodations for students with a disability, including mental health issues.

To learn more about services that may be available for your child at school visit the Understood webpage called School & Learning.

Post Highschool/Adulthood

Unfortunately, many of the free services provided by the public school system will end when someone with a disability becomes an adult. Also, when someone becomes an adult, all their rights are transferred from their parents to them.

Families of people with disabilities should look into their state’s requirements about becoming a legal guardian. This option is not right for everyone. There is also another option called supported decision-making. Supported decision-making provides a person with help in making big choices about their life, independently of others.

For more information about what your state requires for guardianship or for other alternatives, go to the National Disability Rights Network website to find services close to you. To obtain additional information on your state’s options for supported decision making, visit the National Resource Center for Supported Decision Making website. You can also learn more about guardianship and supported decision-making in the MHDD information sheet called Guardianship and Supported Decision Making.

Many states also have programs that help people with disabilities make the transition to adulthood. These programs teach a person how to take care of themselves, social skills, job skills, and improve their education. To browse and find out more about colleges that offer programs for individuals with developmental disabilities, go to the Think College website and take the time to see if this is the right option for your family.

Additional Resources

There are also nation- and statewide resources that can be used, no matter how old a person is. Each one of these resources can be found in your area by visiting their web pages or social media accounts. These include Parent Centers, Developmental Disabilities Council, The Arc, Best Buddies, among many others.

Read the full How to Locate Services Available to Individuals with Developmental Disabilities: Caregiver Perspective fact sheet.

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