How To Navigate Special-Needs Resources

Hardly a day goes by when Mitch and Charlene Sigman, co-founders of the School of Imagination in Dublin, aren’t counseling the parent of a special-needs child and helping them navigate the myriad resources available in the East Bay.


“It’s often difficult for parents to know where to begin after their child is diagnosed as having special needs,” Mitch Sigman says. “They are often unsure who to call for appropriate classes, tutoring, therapy and other support services for their child.”


The Sigmans’ nonprofit serves more than 300 Bay Area children each week and provides hundreds of free screenings and support services to families. In addition, the School of Imagination operates an inclusion preschool and offers a variety of tutoring services. (925-829-9552.


For many families, the Sigmans’ serve as a starting point once their child has been diagnosed with autism, dyslexia, ADHD or developmental delays.


“Every parent leaves here with a plan of action,” says Sigman. “By offering free screenings, as well as education and support, we strive to bring out the extraordinary in every child.”


The Sigmans’ nonprofit is one of many East Bay organizations that offers services to special-needs children and their families. The following list offers a road map to some of the valuable resources available throughout the East Bay.


Where to begin


East Bay

Parents who suspect their child has a developmental delay can obtain an evaluation through their pediatrician or through The Regional Center of the East Bay, which serves infants and young children in Contra Costa and Alameda counties. This nonprofit also offers early intervention, counseling, childcare, parent training and more. 7677 Oakport St., Ste. 300, Oakland and 2151 Salvio St., Ste 365, Concord. 510-383-1200 or 925-798-3001.


If your child is over the age of 3 and you suspect he or she has special needs, contact the director of special education at your local school district. Begin with a letter on why you feel your child should be tested and then follow up with a phone call. Also request a copy of the parents’ rights and the school’s legal timeline for testing and services.


Families can call the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund to speak to one of its advocates about special-education options and obtain resources to help make informed decisions about your child’s education and other individual needs. 2212 Sixth St., Berkeley. 800-348-4232.


The Contra Costa Child Care Council offers an inclusion specialist to help parents locate agencies and resources to help their special-needs child’s development. 2280 Diamond Blvd., Ste. 500, Concord. 925-676-5442, ext. 3113.


San Francisco

The Golden Gate Regional Center is a good starting point for families who want an overview of the services that can help their child. This nonprofit also offers early intervention, counseling, peer support, parent training and more. 875 Stevenson St., San Francisco. 415-546-9222.


If your child is over the age of 3 and you suspect they have special needs, contact the director of special education at your local school district. Begin with a letter on why you feel your child should be tested and then follow up with a phone call. Also request a copy detailing parents’ rights and the school’s legal timeline for testing and services.


Support Services


East Bay

The CARE Parent Network offers peer support, healthcare information and helps parents find the best resources to meet their child’s individual needs. 1340 Arnold Dr., Suite 115, Martinez. 800-281-3023.


Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) offers free monthly support groups and parent-to-parent training classes throughout the Bay Area. Parents can receive online support through the Web site,


The Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF) holds a free Individual Education Program (IEP) clinic once a month for parents who need help strategizing and preparing for an upcoming IEP meeting. 2212 Sixth St., Berkeley. 800-348-4232.


The Family Resource Network in Oakland provides family support, parent training, social and recreation opportunities, and more. 5232 Claremont Ave., Oakland. 510-547-7322.


Parents Helping Parents offers support and information groups for families with special-needs children. Workshops are held at locations throughout the Bay Area. 1400 Parkmoor Ave., Ste. 100, San Jose. 408-727-5775.


San Francisco / Peninsula

The Avalon Academy provides a family-focused approach to  providing educational services to children with movement disorders such as cerebral palsy. 818 Mahler Rd., Burlingame. 650-777-9130.


Community Gatepath is the largest nonprofit organization serving people with disabilities in San Mateo County. Its children’s services department offers intervention services, a family resource center and Links Preschool. 1764 Marco Polo Way, Burlingame. 650-259-8544.


PARCA, a nonprofit serving children with developmental disabilities and their families, offers programs and support groups for children and their families and also holds special events throughout the year. 800 Airport Blvd., Ste. 320, Burlingame. 650-312-0730.


The Parents Education Network helps families with children who have learning or attention difficulties. This nonprofit offers school liaisons and support groups, conferences, lectures and workshops. 281A 16th Ave., San Francisco. 415-751-2237.


The Parents Place Center for Special Needs, a program of Jewish Family and Children’s Services, offers parent education workshops, advocacy and support, individual and family counseling, and socialization groups for children. 1710 Scott St., San Francisco. 415-359-2454.


The nonprofit Support for Families of Children with Disabilities offers families the information they need to make informed choices for their special-needs child. They offer support groups, a parent-mentor program and an annual resource fair. 2601 Mission St., Ste. 300, San Francisco. 415-282-7494.


Child Care and Respite Services


East Bay

The Community Child Care Coordinating Council of Alameda County offers free childcare referrals and information on how to choose childcare. 22351 City Center Dr., Ste. 200, Hayward. 510-582-2182.


George Mark House provides free respite services for special needs children who require medical care. Parents can leave their children with trained medical personnel while they take a short vacation or to take a break from the demands of caregiving. 2121 George Mark Lane, San Leandro. 510-346-4624.


Summer camps are offered throughout the Bay Area and across the country providing children with diabetes, autism and other special needs with the opportunity to enjoy a safe and therapeutic camp experience. For a listing of camps, visit



The Web site can help you locate a babysitter or other caregiver in your area who has a background caring for children with different medical conditions and developmental delays.


The Child Care Coordinating Council of San Mateo County can help families with special-needs children locate appropriate childcare providers. 2121 S. El Camino Real, Ste. A-100, San Mateo. 650-655-6770.



The Community Alliance for Special Education helps families and schools work together to develop individual education programs (IEPs), serves as mediators and offers a free downloadable Special Education Rights and Responsibilities Handbook on its Web site. 1550 Bryant St., San Francisco. 415-431-2285.


The Leigh Law Group represents families of special needs children and can attend IEP meetings with parents, advise parents on decisions related to placement, testing and IEP goals and more. 870 Market St., Ste. 1161, San Francisco. 415-399-9155.


Susan Foley, attorney at law, specializes in helping families navigate federal laws such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act within school systems. 763 Polhemus Road, Suite 2, San Mateo. 650-345-2300.


Educational Resources


The Charles Armstrong School is an award-winning independent elementary and middle school for students with language-based learning differences, such as dyslexia. 1405 Solana Drive, Belmont. 650-592-7570.


The Los Lomitas Elementary School District in Menlo Park offers a free downloadable Special Education Parent Guide that provides information on how to navigate the elementary special-education system.


The Reading Clinic provides treatment for reading, writing and comprehension disorders including dyslexia, ADD and autism. It has locations in Burlingame, San Mateo, Menlo Park and Saratoga.


The Web site,, can help parents find a special-needs tutor in their area. Tutors are listed based on their subject area and special-needs background.


The Russell Bede School offers an educational setting for special-needs children who might be having difficulties in a traditional classroom. Serves students who are challenged by communication difficulties, language problems or have alternative learning styles. 446 Turner Terrace, San Mateo. 650-579-4400.


The Sterne School has a small, nurturing educational program for middle and high school students with mild to moderate learning disabilities. 2690 Jackson St., San Francisco. 415-922-6081.




The Center for Communicative Disorders, Speech, Hearing and Language Clinic at Cal State East Bay in Hayward offers speech, hearing, language screening, evaluations and treatment including the development of home programs. Families are charged modest fees for services on a sliding scale. 510-885-3241.


Communication Works provides speech and language therapy and social skills training to children with a variety of special needs. 4400 Keller Ave., Ste. 200, Oakland. 510-639-2929.


Through the Looking Glass offers services to Bay Area children who have diverse disabilities and medical issues including play therapy, occupational therapy and adaptive equipment. 2198 Sixth St., Berkeley. 510-848-1112.


Educational Resources


The Alameda and Contra Costa County Offices of Education both offer programs for a wide range of special-needs students. These programs include early-start and preschool programs as well as classes for emotionally disturbed or handicapped students. Contra Costa County Office of Education, 77 Santa Barbara Road, Pleasant Hill. 925-942-3388.; Alameda County Office of Education, 313 W. Winton Ave., Hayward. 510-887-1052.


The Contra Costa ARC provides advocacy and direct services to children and adults with developmental disabilities. Its Lynn Center in Pittsburg offers an early-intervention and preschool program for children with developmental delays who are on the autism spectrum, or who have severe emotional and behavioral problems. In addition to the center, services are offered in the child’s home. 925-370-1818.


The Contra Costa Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA) helps facilitate IEP meetings if there is tension or conflict, and helps parents to review special out-of-district special-education programs when appropriate programs aren’t available in their child’s home school district. Offices in Concord and San Pablo. 2520 Stanwell Dr., Concord. 925-827-0949 Alameda County has SELPA offices in Albany, Castro Valley, Fremont, Oakland and Pleasanton. For a full list of office addresses and contact information, visit


Linda Childers is a calendar editor at Bay Area Parent.

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