California Early Start Services

Partnerships with families

Early Start is California’s name for programs that provide services to infants and toddlers (birth to three) with disabilities, and their families. LEAD-K Family Services will refer you and your baby to your local Early Start program serving families with Deaf and Hard of Hearing children. Then, the Early Start staff will contact your family and make an appointment to meet with your family. A teacher of the Deaf and a speech/language pathologist will be part of the team that meets with your family. The Early Start teacher must be specially trained and qualified to work with young Deaf and hard of hearing children.

Home Vists

Visits are provided to your family typically by a Teacher of the Deaf (TOD) to share resources about language opportunities, and developmental milestones. Your Early Start teacher, from your Special Education Local Plan AreH (SELPA) will help you explore opportunities, and support your journey with your Deaf/Hard of Hearing (DHH) child.


Assessments are needed in order to create your child’s Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP), Your family’s priorities and concerns are included in the process. Assessments identify your child’s present strengths and areas of concern regarding language, cognition, social-emotional, physical, and adaptive skills.

Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP)

The Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) is a written document that outlines the early intervention services that your child and family will receive. The Early Start program has 45 calendar days after your baby has been referred to your local school district to develop an (IFSP) based on your family’s priorities. The IFSP team must include a Teacher of the Deaf who helps you set goals for intervention that are reviewed every 6 months.

Language Milestones

You will evaluate your child's signing and/or spoken language progress every 6 months with your IFSP team. You can request sign language instruction for your family as well as speech services for your child. Your Early Start and preschool teachers will be measuring your child's language with the SKI-HI LDS twice per year with the goal that all children who are Deaf/hard of hearing will develop age-appropriate language skills and be ready for Kindergarten by age five.

Deaf Coaching

Deaf coaches provide insight into your child’s experience of growing up Deaf/hard of hearing. A Deaf Coach works with your family in conjunction with the certified Teacher of the Deaf to support the language goals of your child and family. Deaf coaches also demonstrate strategies for communication and model the use of visual cues when interacting with your child.

Parent Mentors

Parents who have experience raising a child who is Deaf/hard of hearing are available to talk with you. You may be feeling overwhelmed with new terminology and professionals in your life. They are happy to answer your questions and listen to your concerns. They can share what they have learned and support your family as you navigate the possibilities and challenges in raising your child.


Pediatric audiologists provide regular hearing testing to assess your child's hearing levels and current functional hearing. Hearing levels and conditions such as microtia, atresia, and auditory neuropathy are explained. Hearing technology such as hearing aids and cochlear implants are also explained and discussed.

Speech and Language

Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs) address the complex interplay of the areas of listening, speaking, signing, and reading. Speech therapy focuses on the development of listening and articulation skills for the development of spoken language skills which contribute to the overall development of literacy and learning.


At 18 months your child may attend your local Early Start playgroup up to 3 times a week for 3 hours a day with peers to support emotional, social, and language development. Hopefully your Early Start program will have a playgroup specifically for Deaf/hard of hearing children. However, playgroups vary by location and are based on the needs of the Early Start families.

Transactions to an IEP

When your child is 30 months old your Early Start service coordinator starts the transition to consider eligibility for an Individualized Education Program with your local school district. When your child is three they will no longer have an IFSP and will probably need an IEP. This district will assess your child to determine eligibility for special education preschool services.


Parent Profile – Language Development


Best Practices for Deaf/hard of hearing Early Start


Position Statement on Access to Language for Students who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing