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  • D.C. Public Schools opened its second station to evaluate preschool students for special education services on Tuesday, saying the Early Stages Center in Ward 7 will serve 800 families each year.

    Forty percent of referrals for early childhood diagnostic services come from Wards 7 and 8, Mayor Vincent Gray said. The new center is steps from the Minnesota Ave. Metro stop.

    The first Early Stages Center was opened in 2009. Nathaniel Beers, chief of the office of special education for DCPS, said the Ward 6 facility severs more than 1,000 children each year, and that the percentage of children identified for special education has increased from below 3 percent to more than 7 percent. Early Stages receives 120 referrals a month, Beers said.

    The centers offer free diagnostic testing for children between the ages of 3 and 5, and recommends services as the children prepare to enter school.

    "Services to young children who have or [are] at risk for development delays have been shown to positively impact outcomes across the developmental domains, including health; language and communication; and cognitive and social/emotional development," Chancellor Kaya Henderson said.

    Early Stages is available to all D.C. families, including children who go on to private schools, public charter schools or homeschooling.

    In September, the Office of the State Superintendent for Education started "Strong Smart," an advertising campaign to get parents to seek treatment for infants and toddlers with symptoms of autism and other developmental delays.