A new plan for providing early intervention services for very young children and their families has been established with Part H of the Education of the Handicapped Act Amendments of 1986, Public Law 99-457. Each state is currently exploring how it can best develop one comprehensive system of care that combines health, education, social, and family services.
Health practitioners have traditionally provided early intervention services in medical settings such as hospitals and local health departments since the early 1900s. Educators, prompted by federal legislation, have provided early intervention services in the public schools primarily since 1975. Occupational therapy practitioners work in both medical and educational settings and must now meet the numerous challenges and opportunities in developing comprehensive, family-centered, community-based care for very young children with special needs. This paper traces the historical development of early intervention services and discusses the major practice issues associated with implementing Part H of the Education of the Handicapped Act Amendments of 1986.