by Cayla Bamberger
Tatyana noticed last summer that her son was developing later than his peers. Months from his second birthday, he knew only eight words — so the Brooklyn mom sought early-intervention services to get him back on track.
But help came slowly.
It took three months for the Bedford-Stuyvesant family to receive special instruction, and close to five months for speech therapy. Federal law requires that infants and toddlers referred for services get evaluated within 45 days, receive an individualized plan, and start therapy within 30 days.
“The questions they asked made you feel like you could’ve done more or done something wrong,” said Tatyana, whose last name is being withheld to respect her toddler’s privacy. “But that’s not the big issue. The big issue is getting the ball rolling and the services started.”
Tatyana’s son was one of tens of thousands of infants and toddlers with developmental delays or disabilities in New York State who has gone without early-intervention services in recent years, a longstanding problem only exacerbated by the pandemic.
More than 1 in 5 young children referred for support did not receive an evaluation from 2018 to 2022, or results were still pending, according to a new audit from the state comptroller. Referral rates and evaluations also decreased by at least 20% the first year of the pandemic.
On top of that, a large share had to wait longer than legally mandated time lines, and more than half of the age group who navigated the evaluation process did not receive all the services to which they were entitled, such as speech or physical therapy, the figures showed.
“Failure to provide babies and toddlers with early-intervention services misses a critical window of opportunity and increases the risk of significant developmental and learning delays, and the need for more special education services in the future,” state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said in a statement.
Lynn Su Mordenga, a parent in the suburbs of upstate Rochester, waited six months for physical therapy after the family’s first evaluation in February 2022 revealed her 2-year-old son needed the support.
She suspected he could benefit from speech therapy, too — but she says their service coordinator told her “there was no point for me to try” given backlogs in delivery. The family is still waiting for speech services, though they have sought out local programs in the meantime.
“It’s very unacceptable. That 0-to-3 age is such a crucial age, their brains are developing so quickly,” she said. “If they don’t have the right support at the beginning, it’s going to be a snowball effect after. They’re going to get to preschool age, and they’re going to feel developmentally behind.”
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