Preschool Special Education Services…What does it all mean?

If your child is between the ages of three and five years old and you suspect they may have a delay or a disability, you should contact your school district’s Committee on Preschool Education Department (CPSE). You can almost always access the contact information on your district’s website. Smaller districts may combine the preschool and school-age offices into one big Special Education department. Either way, if you call the Special Education number and tell them you need to speak to someone about your preschool-age child, they will direct you to the proper person.

Early Intervention services are different than preschool services. For information about getting your child under three years old evaluated, click here. 

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So then what happens?

If you suspect a delay and wish to have your child evaluated, you need to make a referral to your district CPSE. A referral can be made by a  parent, a teacher, or a professional in your child’s school, doctors, judicial officers (such as a family court judge or a probation officer), or a designated person in a public agency. In addition, a referral may also be made by someone from an Early Childhood Direction Center, an approved preschool program, or an Early Intervention Program that serves children with disabilities from birth to age three.

A referral is a written statement directed to your school district asking that your child be evaluated to determine if he or she qualifies for special education services. You should submit the letter to the CPSE chairperson or Special Education Director. When you write your referral, it is a great idea to include some details about why you are requesting the evaluation. This will help the committee to make sure they are assessing your child appropriately in the areas that you are concerned about. Also, include your child’s name and date of birth.

The evaluation process will include various assessments from educational professionals. Each child is tested according to the Committee’s concerns. For example, if a parent or teacher voices concerns over the child’s language skills, a speech and language evaluation may be included as part of the child’s evaluation process. Another child may have strong language skills but very poor motor skills, so that child would be evaluated for occupational or physical therapy, but not speech and language.

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As I mentioned before; give some details about why you are concerned.

“My son Johnny has a lot of difficulty running without falling down, he struggles to sit up straight, he appears clumsy and bumps into furniture, etc.”  

“Annie still has a very limited vocabulary and is difficult to understand when she is talking. My husband and I can understand her, but strangers don’t know what she is saying.”

“Jayden still switches hands when he picks up his scissors or a crayon. He dislikes wearing socks and tantrums if we insist that he uses a spoon instead of his fingers.”

“Matthew’s teacher states that he only likes to play by himself. He needs constant reminders not to shout indoors. He has been getting aggressive with his friends, and he hit someone last week when he was upset”  

This will help the committee to make sure they are assessing your child appropriately in the areas that you are concerned about. After all, you know your child better than we do!

***Miss Jaime OT’s #1 tip – as you begin this process, get in the habit of being very organized. Get a binder or a file folder and keep all of your child’s evaluations, IEP’s and paperwork in one spot. You won’t regret it!

Next, you will receive a request for your written consent to have your child evaluated. Make sure you return the papers! I can’t tell you how many times a parent has complained about the evaluation taking too long when it is simply because the district doesn’t have written consent. It may seem redundant, but legally the district has to have its “ducks in a row” before they can get started.

The evaluations can take place at your child’s preschool or your home. Your district will provide you with a list of evaluators or agencies that you can choose from. I suggest asking your friends for input- did they use an agency that they really like? If you don’t know anyone whose child has been evaluated, you can ask your CPSE chair for suggestions.


The evaluations will take place at no cost to you.

The evaluations must be comprehensive and will be conducted by a psychologist and other professionals that have specific knowledge about your child’s disability (special education teacher, speech therapist, occupational therapist, etc.) It will probably take a few sessions to get all of the testing done. In addition, you will be contacted for information regarding your child’s milestones, habits, strengths, weaknesses, etc. This is called a social history.

The results of the evaluations will be shared with you face to face or by mail. You will then have a formal CPSE meeting where all of the professionals who worked with your child will go over the results of their testing. You can bring any additional information or testing to this meeting to add to your child’s case. The point of this meeting is to get a complete “picture” of your child and to determine if they meet the criteria to qualify for Special Education services. If you have questions about any of the reports prior to the meeting, feel free to call that evaluator or the CPSE chairperson. It is only fair that you understand what you are reading. Sometimes the educational reports get very wordy and confusing for someone who isn’t in the field. It’s Ok, just ask!

In order to be eligible to receive services, your child must meet the criteria set forth by the New York State Education Department. It must be determined that your child has a disability that impacts his ability to learn. Here are the NY state regulations on determining if a preschooler meets the criteria to receive special education services.

So all the testing is done… Now what?

If the CPSE determines that your child is ineligible for Special Education services, they will explain to you why your child doesn’t qualify and provide you with written notice of this decision. If you disagree with the recommendations or decisions of the CPSE, you can begin steps to request mediation or an impartial hearing. Click on the link above for more information regarding mediation. You can also consider going through your health insurance. You would need to speak to your family physician as well as your insurance company to see if these services are covered. A final option would be to pay privately for the services you feel your child needs. Much like a tutor, a private teacher or therapist would work on your areas of concern at a schedule that is convenient for you.

If the CPSE determines that your child is eligible for Special Education services, the Committee will then take the steps to develop an IEP for your child. An IEP is an individualized education plan that is developed specifically for your child’s educational needs. The Committee can consider providing your child with just related services (speech and language or OT) or counseling. Sometimes a child needs a SEIT Special Education Itinerant Teacher or even a half-day program. Each IEP is designed to address your child’s strengths and weaknesses in the Least Restrictive Environment. The Committee will discuss the supports, services, and modifications to meet your child’s needs.

Once the IEP is developed, you will receive a written copy that will include the goals that the professionals servicing your child are working toward. The district will follow a timeline to set up the services for your child in a timely manner so that he or she can begin getting the help they need as soon as possible.

Here is the link to the New York State Special Education Website, which includes more detailed specific information about the process.

The process takes a while to learn, but soon you will be an expert! Consider joining your district’s SEPTA (Special Education Parent Teacher Association) to learn more about the Special Education process and all the supports that are available to you and your child.

Knowledge is power!

Good Luck!



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