A Mother’s Story on How Early Intervention Services Helped Her Son

Ed. Note: October 8, marks the 25th anniversary of President Reagan’s signing of the “Education for All Handicapped Children Act” (EAHCA) Amendments, which included for the first time, mandating services to infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families. To build upon the services established in the EAHCA, last month, Secretary Duncan, and Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services Assistant Secretary Alexa Posny announced the release of new regulations that will help improve services and outcomes for America’s infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families. Below, a mother reflects on her experience and the important role that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Early Intervention Program for Infant and Toddlers with Disabilities provided her child and family.

Special education has been part of my world for as long as I can remember; some may say I was born into it.  I am the child of two special education teachers, and I worked for more than 17 years in the field. All of these experiences never prepared me for the day my own son was diagnosed with autism.

I knew Ethan was different at 19 months old but friends and family told me that all children develop differently. They suggested that I was looking for something to be wrong.  I was hoping they were right! 

Ethan loved to jump, at first it was precious, we called him our little bunny. But then he started missing developmental milestones. The tickle and play you would expect from a young child was replaced by a constant need to jump and flap, an aversion to noise and a fascination with things that spin.  With great trepidation, I called Virginia’s early intervention services office for an evaluation. 

The staff was phenomenal. Under the Part C IDEA program, the evaluators, coordinator and service providers worked with me to identify Ethan’s needs, ensure he received the needed services and ultimately to communicate those needs to the school district. His growth was magnificent and I started to feel hopeful again. The Part C program was one of the very first steps I would make in my journey into services for my child, and those steps have forever changed our lives.

Today Ethan is 7 years old and in 2nd grade and now gets services under Part B of the IDEA. While he still has a long way to go, he has an amazing sense of humor and communicates not only his needs and feelings but has learned to joke. Ethan, who was once seemingly without the need for company, is learning to develop friendships and loves to play games with his peers. Everyone who knows him and has worked with him comments on how far he’s come.  Our family is stronger because Ethan’s education is built on the roots established through the Part C early intervention services he received. 

Ellen Safranek is the proud mother of Ethan, and currently works at the U.S. Department of Education in the Office of the Chief Financial Officer. Prior to this position, she worked for 17 years in the Office of Special Education Programs. 


  1. I have read with interest your testimony and was impressed. I’am Rwandese working wiithin Rwanda Ministry of Education. Specifically in charge of Early Childhood Development. I have printed your wonderful testimony and will share it with our ECD Practionners. Would you please connect me with the department of Education so that we may exchange some experiences. Also send me your e-mail , some mothers want to talk to you as they are experiencing the same situations.

  2. My experience was equally phenomenal although my son was “simply” born prematurely and had difficulty with breathing, swallowing, and eating. Each of these essential elements have been difficult and we still struggle with them but he is wonderful and without EI, he would not be close to walking at 36 months, giggling and enjoying his environment. As a mother, I would be a total and utter basket-case without the wonderful support from the staff I have worked with.

  3. Hello

    Ellen you are a very strong mother I must say. This attitude of yours will motivate your son to go a long way and cover successes in his life; Best Wishes to you both. Really thanks for sharing the emotions.


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