Understanding The Special Needs Landscape In NYC

For city parents who suspect their child has a developmental delay, there’s good news—the city offers a wealth of free services for children with special needs, and there are also many experienced professionals in private practice in the city who work with children with special needs. But the bureaucracy around special needs can be confusing and overwhelming, so we asked a few local experts for their guidance.

Trust Your Instincts 

Many children reach developmental milestones within a typical time frame. For example, experts will tell you most children are sitting up between 4 and 7 months. While it’s important to remember that each child develops differently, parents who suspect their child may have a delay “should trust their instinct—they know their child best,” says Dr. Daniela Montalto, director of the Institute for Learning and Academic Achievement at the NYU Child Study Center (aboutourkids.org). Dr. Montalto advises parents to pay attention to potential delays, such as difficulty saying single words by two years old, which can indicate a speech or language-learning weakness. Other warning signs for infants and toddlers include children who do not smile by 3-4 months, children who are not feeding themselves by 8 months, and those who are not walking by 15 months, says Dana Rosenbloom, a child and family therapist who works with all types of families but focuses on families of children with special needs (danaskids.com). She advises parents to talk to their child’s pediatrician about their concerns. If you are still concerned, have your child evaluated. In NYC, a child can be referred for services by doctors, teachers, child care agencies, social worker, and other community-based agencies. Of course, parents can always make their own referral by calling 311 and asking for Early Intervention.

Get Evaluated

New York City’s Early Intervention Program is funded and regulated by the NYS Department of Health and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The Early Intervention Program (EIP) evaluates children up to age three for a variety of home-based therapeutic services. From ages three to five years, the Committee for Preschool Special Education (CPSE), also regulated and funded by both NYS and NYC, assesses eligibility for both home and facility-based services. Once the initial evaluations are completed, you will find out if your child is eligible for services. At this point in Early Intervention, an Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP) is created. In CPSE, it is referred to as an Individual Education Plan (IEP). Eligibility criteria are different in EI and CPSE. In both programs, services can include but are not limited to speech, physical, occupational and special education therapy sessions. In EI and CPSE, evaluations and services for eligible children are free. Within the private sector, organizations like the NYU Child Study Center offer comprehensive neuropsychological evaluations of a child’s attention, memory, social and emotional development. (See sidebar for more on where to get evaluated in NYC.)

Consider Your Options

Many public and private school options exist for children with special needs. Rosenbloom explains that in Early Intervention, each child is given a Case Coordinator who will work with parents to determine which early childhood programs and services will best meet their child’s needs. In CPSE, the Committee will help a parent evaluate their choices. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that children be educated in the “least restrictive environment.” This means that CPSE will consider providing special education services in an environment with age-appropriate, typically-developing peers.

For when a school for special needs is recommended, Rosenbloom cites YAI/Gramercy and Child Development Center, as a popular and wellregarded early childhood program for children with special needs.

Once a child has reached age five (and up to 21), the Committee on Special Education (CSE) provides evaluation and services. If your child has been receiving CPSE services, during the year prior to kindergarten, the Committee will decide if your child continues to require special education services and will make the referral to the Committee on Special Education (CSE). The CSE will recommend that either your child receives these services in a public school environment or in another educational setting. In public school, Collaborative Team Teaching (CTT) classes are increasingly common. Within a typical CTT class, there are two teachers, with one trained in special education.
Children who are struggling in specific areas, such as math or reading,
receive smallgroup instruction, while the rest of the class listens to
the general education teacher. Afterwards, all students engage in
mainstream learning. “Evaluations indicate if children will benefit from
CTT classes, where half the kids have no learning disabilities,” Dr.
Montalto says. “Observing general education children who perform in a
stronger way enables some kids with special needs to adapt what they see
to their own style.” CTT classes can also be beneficial for
typically-developing children “whose self esteem is built while they are
helping others,” Rosenbloom adds. But she also points out that CTT
classes aren’t the best fit for everyone, especially students with more
significant developmental needs.

Seek Legal Counsel

choose to forego public school options for various reasons, including
the absence of programs equipped to meet their child’s specific
learning needs. Upon enrolling their child in a private school, these
parents often seek tuition reimbursement by filing a lawsuit against the
Department of Education (DOE), stating that “the DOE failed to offer
their child the statutory right to a free and appropriate public
education,” explains Regina Skyer of the Law Offices of Regina Skyer
& Associates (skyerlaw.com), a law firm that specializes in
advocating for children with special education needs. While there’s no
guarantee that families will win the case and recoup tuition costs,
Skyer recommends parents work with an attorney specialized in
advocating, mediating and litigating for kids with learning
disabilities. She notes that the multi-step process is complex, and it’s
best if the child has been privately evaluated. Also, unless parents
choose a private program from a list of approved schools, they’ll have
to reapply each year. She recommends parents attend workshops on the
subject such as those hosted by private schools or at the JCC in

Special Needs Evaluation Centers And Advocacy Groups

addition to contacting the following providers, parents can always call
311 and ask for Early Intervention. Also, parents can view a list of
city-approved evaluation providers by borough at nyc.gov.

ABC Early Intervention Program, a-b-c.org

Advocates For Children, advocatesforchildren.org

Bank Street Family Center, bnkst.edu/fc/

Early Childhood Associates, earlychildhoodassociates.org

Important Steps, importantsteps.com

Los Ninos Services, losninos.com

Theracare, theracare.com

YAI/NYL, yai.org