Early identification of children with special needs is often done by agencies of ministries other than the Ministry of Education. A number of initiatives from the Ministry of Children and Youth Services are intended to facilitate early identification of young children with special needs and to provide appropriate services for them. These initiatives include the following:

  • Healthy Babies Healthy Children Program: Provides prevention and early intervention services for families with young children identified to have risk factors. Screening is for physical, cognitive, communicative, and psychological health concerns that may impact the child's development. The program also provides home visiting services to vulnerable families to support parenting and healthy child development. Screening and support services are provided from the prenatal period until the child's transition to school.
  • Ontario Infant Hearing Program: Identifies infants with permanent hearing loss and those at risk of developing late onset or progressive hearing loss, as early as possible. It also provides these children with the supports and services required for communication and language development so that they are ready to learn when they reach school. The Infant Hearing Program offers:
    • universal newborn hearing screening in hospitals and community settings;
    • audiology assessment and hearing aid selection;
    • monitoring for those babies born at risk of early childhood hearing loss;
    • services until school entry to support language development in infants and preschool children who are Deaf or hard of hearing.
  • Ontario Autism Program: This new program, which will begin to be implemented in June 2017, will make it easier for families to access services for their children by reducing wait times, providing more flexible services at a level of intensity that meets each child's individual needs, and increasing the number of treatment spaces available.
  • Preschool Speech and Language Program: Identifies children with speech and language delays and disorders, and provides services to support their communication and early literacy development. Services are provided by speech-language pathologists and supportive personnel, and include assessment and a range of age-appropriate and needs-based intervention approaches, such as parent training, group and individual treatment, and caregiver consultation. Services are provided from a child's birth to the time the child enters school.
  • Blind–Low Vision Early Intervention Program: Provides early intervention support and education for families with children who are born blind or who have low vision. Specialized family-centred services are available for children from the time of their birth to school entry. These services include:
    • family supports;
    • specialized intervention services for the child and family;
    • consultation for professionals in child care and early learning environments on how best to work with and teach children who are born blind or who have low vision.
  • Infant Development Program: Provides support and services to families with young children (from birth to age five) who have a developmental delay or disability. Services are provided in the child's home and/or community and focus on supporting parents in promoting their child's early development. Attention is given to the following areas of development: cognitive, fine and gross motor, social-emotional, linguistic, and self-help.

More information on these initiatives can be found on the website of the Ministry of Children and Youth Services.

Another initiative that the Ministry of Children and Youth Services has implemented is the Special Needs Strategy. Introduced in 2014, this strategy involves three other ministries – Education, Health and Long-Term Care, and Community and Social Services. The four ministries are committed to working together with parents, children and youth, service providers, and community partners to enhance outcomes for children and youth with special needs. The objective is to improve how families of children and youth with special needs – including physical, developmental, and/or communicational needs – can access services in a timely and coordinated way, as close to home as possible.

The Special Needs Strategy aims to improve the service experience of families by implementing the following three key initiatives:

  • A new developmental surveillance process will give families who may have a concern about their child's development access to supports as early as possible. This process will be designed to facilitate conversation between families and trained providers, enhance families' understanding of their child's development, and when needed, connect children to the appropriate services.
  • Coordinated Service Planning will provide children and youth with multiple and/or complex special needsfootnote A and their families with the support of a Service Planning Coordinator. This coordinator will help to connect these children and their families with services and supports, and will develop and monitor a Coordinated Service Plan that is responsive to their individual goals, needs, and strengths.
  • Rehabilitation services, including speech and language pathology, occupational therapy, and physiotherapy, will be integrated so that children and youth with special needs and their families have a seamless service experience from birth through to school exit, and access to a broad range of interventions within a tiered service delivery framework, in accordance with provincial program guidelines.

For a child with multiple and/or complex special needs, a Service Planning Coordinator, in collaboration with the family and the service providers, will develop a holistic, coordinated service plan that builds on information made available during the screening process. With the consent of the parents, information will be shared among the various providers, educators, and other professionals, so that parents don't have to repeat their story several times to all those involved. The Service Planning Coordinator, in collaboration with the family, will also keep track of the child's outcomes and monitor and update the service plan as appropriate. Where a preschool identification of a child with special needs has been made, the Service Planning Coordinator will work with service providers and educators to plan for the transitions, including the transition to school. The Service Planning Coordinator may also provide information about any potential accessibility-related requirements or other modifications required to facilitate the child's participation in school. District school boards that provide services and/or supports to children and youth with special needs are expected to participate in Coordinated Service Planning. These school boards will have formal agreements with the coordinating agency regarding information sharing and participating in the Coordinated Service Planning process.

Coordinated Service Planning can be accessed through a referral to the local coordinating agency. General information about the Special Needs Strategy can be found on the website of the Ministry of Children and Youth Services.


  • footnote[A] Back to paragraph Children and youth with multiple and/or complex special needs are a subset of children and youth with special needs. These children and youth require multiple specialized services (e.g., rehabilitation, autism, developmental, and/or respite services) due to the depth and breadth of their needs and informed by their families' needs, strengths, and capacities. They may experience challenges related to multiple areas of their development, including their physical, communicational, intellectual, emotional, social, and/or behavioural development, and may require services from multiple sectors and/or professionals. They may also have ongoing service needs, such as severe physical and intellectual impairments that require the use of technology.