Early Childhood

Early childhood refers to children aged birth through eight years.  During these years, children learn and develop with supportive and responsive parents, family members, childcare providers, preschool teachers, and others in the community.  It is during this time great changes take place in their thinking (cognitive), physical (gross and find motor), self-help (adaptive), communication (using and understanding language) and social (interacting and relating to others) development.  Children also learn from being with other children during playdates, playing at the park, going to birthday parties, participating in outings in the community, and while attending childcare, mother’s day out and preschool programs.  This time of development lays the foundation for their future.  Explore the tabs below to learn about early childhood programs and services.

Many children participate in child care programs.  Child care centers and family child care homes in Oklahoma are licensed through the Department of Human Services (DHS), Child Care Services .  The DHS, Child Care Services website provides information and resources including:

  • licensing requirements
  • a child care locator (searchable database) and a summary of facility monitoring
  • checklists to assess child care programs
  • a guide to selecting quality child care
  • information about paying for child care
  • a section on special needs

For more information:

Contact Oklahoma Child Care Services by

Email: childcare.occs@okdhs.org
Phone:  (405) 521-3561 or 1-800-347-2276

Visit the following Child Care Services website pages:

Providing Oklahoma with Quality Child Care

Parent Information

Special Needs

Special Initiatives - Warmline (free telephone consultations to child care providers)


Additional resources

Commonly Asked Questions about Child Care Centers and the Americans with Disabilities Act from the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights Section


Service options for children under three years of age include publicly funded programs, for profit programs, and independent professionals. Included below is information about the SoonerStart early intervention program because it is publicly funded and is designed specifically for all Oklahoma children birth to 3 years of age with disabilities and developmental delays. 

SoonerStart Early Intervention
In the state of Oklahoma, families of children birth to 3 years of age may access services through the SoonerStart early intervention program. SoonerStart is Oklahoma's early intervention program designed to meet the needs of infants and toddlers with disabilities and developmental delays.  The State Department of Education Special Education Section is responsible for the administration and monitoring of the SoonerStart program.  They must ensure the requirements of the Individual's with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA), 2004 are implemented in accordance with the law.  Other programs involved in the implementation of SoonerStart include the Department of Health, Department of Human Services, Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth, and the Oklahoma Health Care Authority.

What to Expect from SoonerStart
You can expect SoonerStart to perform an evaluation of your child, develop an Individualized Family Service Plan (if your child is determined eligibile for early intervention services) and to provide service coordination.  The following describes each of the activities.

SoonerStart will evaluate your child's development to determine eligibility for early intervention services. Autism is a diagnosis that is listed in the SoonerStart policies and procedures manual (2003) as an automatic qualifying condition meaning that if your child has been diagnosed with autism, your child has met the eligibility criteria to receive early intervention services in the state of Oklahoma. If your child does not have a diagnosis, your child will be evaluated to determine eligibility. Following is the criteria used for determining eligibility for SoonerStart early intervention services.

  • exhibit a delay in their developmental age compared to their chronological age of fifty percent (50%) or score two standard deviations below the mean in one of the following areas or in a subdomain of one of the areas: cognitive, physical, communication, social or emotional, or adaptive development;
  • exhibit a delay in their developmental age compared to their chronological age of twenty-five percent (25%) or score one and one-half standard deviations below the mean in two or more of the following areas or in a subdomain of two or more of the following areas: cognitive, physical, communication, social or emotional, or adaptive development;
  • have a diagnosed physical or mental condition that has a high probability of resulting in delay. This includes, but is not limited to: chromosomal disorders, neurological abnormalities, inborn errors of metabolism, genetic disorders, congenital malformation of the brain, congenital infections, sensory abnormalities and impairments, or identified syndromes.


Assessment and Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP)
Once eligibility has been determined, you and staff from SoonerStart will develop an individualized family service plan. The IDEA requires that the IFSP to include: 

Information about your child's status: The IFSP must include a statement of your child's present levels of development in the following areas: physical (gross motor, fine motor, vision, hearing, and health status), cognitive (thinking), communication (expressive and receptive), social or emotional, and adaptive (self-help). The statement is based on the information from your child's evaluation and assessments.

Family information: With your agreement, the IFSP must include a statement of your family's resources, priorities, and concerns related to enhancing the development of your child as identified through the assessment. 

Results or outcomes: The IFSP must include a statement of the measurable results or measurable outcomes expected to be achieved for your child (including pre-literacy and language skills, as developmentally appropriate for the child) and family, and the criteria, procedures, and timeliness used to determine-(1) the degree to which progress toward achieving the results or outcomes is being made; and (2) whether modifications or revisions of the results, outcomes or services are necessary.

Early intervention services: The IFSP must include a statement of the specific early intervention services, based on peer-reviewed research (to the extent practicable), that are necessary to meet the unique needs of your child and family to achieve the results or outcomes, including:

  • The length, duration, frequency, intensity, and method of delivering the services;
  • The natural environment setting in which early intervention services will be providedincluding, if applicable, a justification of the extent, if any, to which an early intervention service will not be provided in a natural environment.
  • The determination of the appropriate setting for providing early intervention services to an infant or toddler with a disability, including any justification for not providing a particular early intervention service in the natural environment for that child and service, must be made bythe IFSP team (which includes the parent and other team members) and be based on the child's outcomes that are identified by the IFSP team;
  • The location of the services; and
  • The payment arrangements, if any.

Frequency and intensity mean the number of days or sessions that a service will be provided, and whether the service is provided on an individual or group basis; and Method means how a service is provided; Length means the length of time the service is provided during each session of that service (such as an hour or other specified time period); Duration means projecting when a given service will no longer be provided (such as when the child is expected to achieve the results or outcomes in his or her IFSP); and Location means the actual place or places where a service will be provided.

Other services: To the extent appropriate, the IFSP must include (1) medical and other services that the child or family needs or is receiving through other sources, but that are neither required nor funded by early intervention; and (2) If those services are not currently being provided, include a description of the steps the service coordinator or your family may take to assist your child and family in securing those other services. 

Dates; duration of services: The IFSP must include (1) the projected dates for the initiation of each service and must be as soon as possible after the IFSP meetings; and (2) the anticipated duration of each service.

Service coordinator: The IFSP must include the name of the service coordinator from the profession most immediately relevant to your child's or family's needs (or who is otherwise qualified to carry out all applicable responsibilities), who will be responsible for the implementation of the early intervention services identified in a child's IFSP, including transition services, and coordination with other agencies and persons.

Transition from early intervention services: The IFSP must include the steps to be taken to support the transition of the child to (1) preschool services, to the extent that those services are appropriate; or (2) other services that may be available, if appropriate. The steps required include:

  • discussions with, and training of, parents regarding future placements and other matters related to your child's transition;
  • procedures to prepare your child for changes in service delivery, including steps to help your child adjust to, and function in, a new setting;
  • with parental consent, the transmission of information about your child to the local school district, to ensure continuity of services, including evaluation and assessment information, and copies of IFSPs that have been developed and implemented; and
  • a statement describing assistive technology services or devices as appropriate.

The IFSP must be reviewed by your family and the early intervention professionals at least every 6 months to determine progress and the need for service changes. 

Service Coordination (Case Management)
Service coordination services means services provided by a service coordinator to assist and enable your child with a disability and family to receive the rights, procedural safeguards, and services that are authorized to be provided under the Individual's with Disabilities Education Act, including-

Coordinating all services across agency lines; 

Serving as the single point of contact in helping parents to obtain the services and assistance they need;

Assisting parents of infants and toddlers with disabilities in gaining access to early intervention services and other services identified in the IFSP;

Coordinating the provision of early intervention services and other services (such as medical services for other than diagnostic and evaluation purposes) that the child needs or is being provided;

Facilitating the timely delivery of available services; and

Continuously seeking the appropriate services and situations necessary to benefit the development of each child being served for the duration of the child's eligibility.

Specific service coordination activities include:

  • Coordinating the performance of evaluations and assessments;
  • Facilitating and participating in the development, review, and evaluation of individualized family service plans;
  • Assisting families in identifying available service providers;
  • Coordinating and monitoring the delivery of available services;
  • Informing families of the availability of advocacy services;
  • Coordinating with medical and health providers; and
  • Facilitating the development of a transition plan to preschool services, if appropriate.

In summary, you can expect SoonerStart to 1) conduct an evaluation to determine your child's eligibility for early intervention services; 2) develop an IFSP if your child is eligible for early intervention services; and 3) provide service coordination to help you navigate the process, understand your procedural safeguards, and receive the early intervention services authorized under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. For more information, visit the SoonerStart website or call (405) 521-3351.

Head Start and Early Head Start are programs of the office of Head Start under the Administration of Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  Their mission is to promote school readiness of young children from low income families in their local communities.  They serve children from birth to age five.  Head Start programs must meet Program Performance Standards to support the healthy cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development of children they serve.   The Standards also require at least 10 percent of each program's enrollment be children with disabilities who are eligible for services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).   The Standards also require progams to support children who have developmental delays but are not eligible under the IDEA.   Programs must work with parents so they can support their children's development.  For more information about their services, Program Performance Standards, and to find a program near you, visit: Office of Head Start website.

School options during the early childhood years include home school, private schools, and publicly funded schools.  For information about these options, visit our page on Life Span Supports, School.

Please visit our Provider Directory for a list of professionals.