Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

I Think My Preschooler Is Falling Behind: What Help is Available?

Dr. Carlson's Corner

Early Learning and Special Needs

You notice that some children at the playground and at your child’s daycare center appear more advanced in their physical growth, motor development, or language skills than your preschool-aged child. These nagging thoughts may leave you wondering if your concerns are valid.

Children vary widely in their rates of growth and development across all ages and stages. In a previous column, we explored developmental milestones that can be used by parents, caregivers, and medical providers to monitor the development of young children during the first five years. These checklists help identify when parents should seek help to address potential delays in their child’s development. In this column, we will explore early intervention services for preschool-aged children.

In South Dakota, public school districts are responsible for providing special education and related services to children with disabilities or developmental delays from ages 3-21. Most school districts offer preschool screenings as part of their efforts to find and identify children with disabilities. During these screenings, various early childhood professionals check a child’s development in the areas of language, articulation, motor skills, and concept development. Vision and hearing screenings are often included as well. If you are concerned about your child’s development and he/she is between the ages of 3-5 years, you should contact your local school district to learn about preschool screening options in your community. (Click the following links for information regarding preschool screening in South Dakota’s two largest school districts—Sioux Falls School District or Rapid City Area Schools.)

If the results of a screening suggest the need for additional evaluations, the school district will ask for your permission to conduct a multi-disciplinary evaluation by a team of professionals that may include early childhood special educators, speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, and school psychologists. The evaluation team will then conduct more extensive evaluations across developmental domains and in all areas of suspected disability. A school district official will work with you to develop an evaluation plan based upon your child’s unique needs.

Upon completion of the multi-disciplinary evaluation, the team will meet with you to review the results and determine if your child qualifies for early childhood special education services due to a developmental delay or one of thirteen other eligibility categories. The team will then collaborate with you to develop an Individual Education Plan (IEP) that highlights the following: a) your child’s strengths and needs, b) short-term and/or long-term goals, and c) a description of the services and supports your child needs to achieve those goals. (See resources from the South Dakota Parent Connection for a more in-depth description of the special education process.) The team will consider a variety of environments in which to provide the services your preschooler needs. Special consideration will be given to providing those services in settings with other children your child’s age, such as in community preschool programs.

As parents, you know your child best, so don’t dismiss those lingering concerns about your preschooler’s developmental progress. Reach out to your child’s pediatrician about your concerns, or inquire about preschool screening options in your community. Early intervention services have been shown to positively impact a child’s developmental trajectory and can lead to improved outcomes when they enter school.

This column provided a brief overview of intervention services for preschool-aged children in South Dakota. (For information regarding early interventions for children between birth and three years, see Early Intervention Services in South Dakota.) In next month’s column, we will dig deeper into speech and language delays. We will explore typical language development and discuss how parents can support their child’s development of vital communication skills.

References and Resources

Rapid City Area Schools. (n.d.) Child Find. Retrieved December 6, 2020 from

Sioux Falls School District. (n.d.) Early Childhood-Programs. Retrieved December 6, 2020 from

South Dakota Parent Connection. (2016). Parent brief: What parents should know about the important role they play in their child’s early development. Retrieved December 6, 2020 from

South Dakota Parent Connection. (2018). What parents should know about special education in South Dakota. Retrieved December 6, 2020 from

Dr. Krislyn Carlson is a K-5 special education teacher with the Beresford Public School District. She has twenty-two years of experience teaching special education at the elementary and middle school levels. Krislyn obtained her doctorate degree with an emphasis on special education and administration from the University of South Dakota. Current interests include adapting literacy and language instruction for students with significant cognitive disabilities and complex communication needs.