The use of categorical diagnostic labels prescribed in P.L. 94--142 with children below school age is examined in this article. National practices relative to categorical labeling are reviewed, and questions are posed concerning the consequences of categorical labeling for children from 3 to 6 years old. Data from the state of New Hampshire concerning the frequency of usage for specific categorical labels are presented and are found to be consistent with national trends. Data are presented on the number of children who transition from non-categorical early intervention programs serving children birth to 3 years into categorical preschool programs for children 3 through 5 years. Almost one-third of all children served in early intervention are found not to be eligible for preschool services because of the requirement for a categorical label. The roles of demographic factors related to place of residence, age, and local school policies in deciding who is eligible for services and what diagnostic category is assigned, were considered. Finally, the consequences of categorical labeling for children, parents, and programs are discussed.



Publication Date

Fall 1988

Journal Title

Topics in Early Childhood Special Education


Sage Publications

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)


Document Type



© PRO-ED Inc.