Thanks to Spirited Play Labs in San Ramon for sponsoring this guide to local resources for kids with special needs. From infant sleep to movement-based language development, the term “special needs” encompasses children with developmental delays, disabilities, or neurodivergent identities.
We also appreciate our community of parents that helps us learn about a host of organizations that provide services to families with children who are differently-abled in all sorts of ways. Our list continues to grow thanks to word-of-mouth from parents and helpful organizations to help us grow the list and categorize the resources. If you have a tip to share, please comment below.
About Spirited Play Labs LLC for Children with Special Needs
At its core, Spirited Play Labs was created to boost community and connection. Having young children can be isolating before factoring in navigating the overwhelming terrain of pediatric therapy. Many parents have expressed their frustration with the lack of social options and ongoing therapeutic experiences in other private programs.
Spirited Play Labs keep the intervention going by providing hands-on learning to parents, and a social setting for children to practice and generalize newly-learned skills. In addition, all Play Labs include a free visit to the inclusive play space after each weekly session.
Spirited Play Labs has teamed up with 15+ experienced local providers to provide needed education and support to families. These specialists include music therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, physical therapists, art therapists, early learning specialists, early childhood educators, mindfulness practitioners, psychotherapists, family play therapists, and educational consultants.
Spirited Play Labs offer a range of enrollment-based services including:
- Play Labs – a parent and child playgroup combining group therapy and social play. Select a Play Lab that works with your schedule and needs.
- Community Playdates For All – twice-weekly open play sessions for children 0 to 7 with a brief structured activity.
- Birthday Parties – The Spirited Play Labs space is perfect for inclusive children’s parties and private events with space for up to 15 kids and their families.
- Monthly Memberships – For families looking for ongoing community, this is the best way to stay connected. Membership includes unlimited access to the play space, 15% off all Play Labs, use of the lending library, complimentary snacks and drinks, and access to co-working and childcare hours.
Ages: Play Labs are for infants, toddlers, or pre-k & early elementary-aged children (currently up to age 7).
Format: Play Labs start at $50 per session and are 4-12 weeks in length. Parents or caregivers are required to attend.
Days & Dates: Play Labs run weekday mornings and afternoons, as well as Saturday mornings. Play Labs run on a quarterly schedule and will renew every three months.
Location: Spirited Play Labs, 2220 Camino Ramon, San Ramon, CA
To learn more about this inclusive play space, sign up for a free one-hour visit starting January 3 at spiritedplaylabs.com/book-now >
More East Bay Resources for Children with Special Needs
Support for new parents of babies & toddlers with special needs
Early intervention for babies and toddlers who have a cognitive, communication, or physical delay in development can be supported by these resources:
Family Resource Navigators (San Leandro) helps parents with children 0-5 identify and connect with resources to support kids with medical, developmental, or social-emotional concerns. Always free of charge in Alameda County. Visit website >
Regional Center of the East Bay (San Leandro) assesses and recommends information and services for children or adults with developmental disabilities. Visit website >
The Early Childhood Mental Health (ECMH) Program at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland provides a range of specialized mental health services for infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and their families. Pro tip: You will need to navigate the bureaucracy and advocate for yourself. Visit website >
Special Visual Assessment Clinic at UC Berkeley Optometry, (Berkeley) SVAC offers the best eye exams for kids of all ages and needs starting with infants — good luck getting in, though. Visit website >
Dr. Liz Salzburg and Dr. Nanci Tucker at Kiwi Pediatrics (Berkeley) come recommended by a special needs mom we trust. Visit website >
We GET It Foundation! (multiple locations) is a growing community of parents of children on the Autism Spectrum that connects families through play and support groups with an emphasis on inclusion, acceptance, and total family support. Visit website >
Support for Families of Children with Disabilities (San Francisco) offers information, education, and parent-to-parent support free of charge to families of children with any kind of disability or special healthcare need and to the professionals who work with them. Visit Website >
Parents Helping Parents (San Jose and beyond) wants to empower you at every stage of your child’s life, from birth through adulthood. To start, drop in to a Parent Cafe (judgment-free zone for parents of kids 0 to 5) to share the joys and challenges of parenting those with delays and disabilities. Visit website >
Care Parent Network (Martinez) Care Parent Network offers continuous support to families of children ages 0-22 (and even beyond) in Contra Costa County. Get to know them.
Every Child Berkeley School is an inclusive preschool for ages 18 months to 5 years leveraging the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM), behavioral therapy for children with Autism. Visit website >
Navigating the school years for kids with special needs
Ala Costa runs after-school care and summer camp programs for children with developmental disabilities. Sites are in Alameda, Berkeley, and Oakland. Visit website >
Free Special Education Trainings (Berkeley) 90-minute information sessions are presented every month (except for August) at the Ed Roberts Campus (near Ashby BART) or by Zoom. The focus is “Understanding the Special Education Process: IEP Basics & Beyond”. Education advocates will go over laws that protect students with disabilities and walk through the special education process. The Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, which presents these trainings, serves all of Alameda County. Sign up online.
Raskob Institute is a day school in Oakland, affiliated with Holy Names University, designed to support students in grades 3-8 with individualized learning to accommodate mild to moderate learning differences, ADHD, and processing disorders. They offer day school, educational therapy, and a summer program. Visit website >
Brett Allen, Special Education lawyer recommended by a special education mom, “He handles all my school district issues and has won three times for us.” Visit website >
UP Academy is a progressive elementary lab school in San Mateo for children with physical disabilities and learning differences. They focus on students’ academic, emotional, and physical growth through a differentiated learning and project-based curriculum. Visit website >
Occupational Therapy, Speech Therapy, and Social-Emotional Support
Kyo (Hayward and Concord) Behavior Therapists for kids with ASD, ADD, ADHD & ODD with many great programs including Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). Now offering back-to-school learning support. Visit website >
The Learning Fountain (San Ramon) is occupational therapy and speech therapy resource specializing in early intervention. View website >
Playspace Therapy (Walnut Creek) is a pediatric occupational therapy clinic serving families and children with special needs ages newborn through adolescence. Visit website >
PLTA Play Pals (San Leandro) Pediatric Language Therapy Associates offers play-based groups for preschoolers and many other speech therapy programs. View website >
Speech Pathology Group (Berkeley, Walnut Creek) operates five Bay Area clinics that offer assessment, consultation, and individual and group speech therapy. Get started with a video conference. Visit website >
Seven Bridges Therapy in Oakland, Hayward, Pleasant Hill, and Walnut Creek offers speech, language, and social learning therapy for all ages beginning with toddlers. Visit website >
Additional resources for hard of hearing kids in the East Bay
Center for Early Intervention on Deafness (Berkeley) Hosting parent/child playgroups, including a Deaf-Blind playgroup, CEID is also a resource and preschool option for children who are hard of hearing, or experience hearing loss, or deafness. Visit website >
California School for the Deaf (CSD) Located in Fremont, CSD serves deaf/hard of hearing individuals between the ages of three and 22 years. Recognized for its academic rigor and direct bilingual instruction in American Sign Language and English, students come from around the state. It also hosts parent/child playgroups, preschool, family programming, family camp, and more. View website >
DCARA (Deaf Counseling Advocacy & Referral Agency, DCARA) Located in San Leandro, DCARA offers family playgroups and programming, Deaf mentors for children and families, ASL classes for families, family camp, storytime, and more. Website >
Recreation and Enrichment classes for kids with special needs
Not surprisingly, many of the really cool recreation programs for children with special needs have ceased operating because of the shelter in place directives around Covid-19. It is a huge bummer.
BORP Adaptive Sports and Recreation (Berkeley) Not specifically for children, BORP advances the lives of people with physical disabilities through many adaptive sports and recreational activities. Currently running many seated Zoom workouts. View website >
E-sports inclusive sports: All around the Bay Area, athletic opportunities for kids with special needs to play alongside typically developing kids have been organized by E-sports (stands for Exceptional Sports). Find contact info and programs for the following types of inclusive activities: dance, soccer, basketball, karate, and fitness on the website >
Little League Challenger Division: Kids of all abilities are included in this Little League program for adaptive baseball skills and the fun of team sports. Learn more >
Square Peg Foundation (Half Moon Bay) Horseback riding lessons at the Square Peg Foundation are highly recommended by parents of a child with pathological demand avoidance, ADHD, and sensory processing. Square Peg offers dignity, kindness, and a fun-loving atmosphere. View website >
Spirited Play Labs (San Ramon) offers developmental play, kindergarten readiness, preschool readiness, family music therapy, and supported social skills classes among others. View website to see the full list of labs and enrichment classes >
Many of our other favorite recreation and sports leagues are not operating due to Covid-19. If you have a program you love, please drop it in the comments.
All-abilities Playgrounds and Playspaces you should know about
Always Dream Play Park (Fremont): This smallish, inclusive, outdoor playground has water play, sandpits, spinners, and climbers. It is part of the much larger Central Park and Lake Elizabeth recreation area.
Imagine Playground (Dublin): Inclusive outdoor playground with many climbers, structures, sandpits, climbing domes, lovely landscaping, and all-abilities everything, Imagine Playground is at the Dublin Sports Ground with additional sports fields.
Littlejohn Park (Alameda): Little John Park outdoor playground is wonderful for all abilities with climbers, swings, and sensory playthings.
Magical Bridge Playground (Palo Alto): An all-inclusive outdoor playground in Palo Alto’s Mitchell Park, Magical Bridge is wonderful and worth the drive for East Bay families.
Mia’s Dream Come True Playground (Hayward): Fully-gated all-abilities playground with accessible play structures, swings, slides, and a magical toilet. Mia’s Dream Come True Playground is part of Tennyson Park with additional fields and courts.
Spirited Play Labs (San Ramon): Membership-oriented indoor play space for children ages 0-7 curated by developmental specialists for your child’s growth and enjoyment. View website >
Gifts and Activities for kids with special needs
OT Park Box. Made by an occupational therapist in Morgan Hill, this box of sensory-friendly goodies includes curated developmental activities for children from birth to 3 years old. Visit website >
Messy Play Kits. Made by a preschool teacher in the Santa Cruz Mountains, these sensory play kits include hands-on STEAM projects for children ages 3-8. View website >
Lakeshore Learning. (San Leandro and Walnut Creek) sells teaching resources including hands-on learning products, sensory-friendly items, language learning toys, and other specialty items like flexible seating (pictured below at Spirited Play Labs). Discounts are always available.
Parents, if you’ve discovered a great local resource for your child with special needs, please share it here to let others know about it.
Big thanks again to Spirited Play Labs for sponsoring this guide to local resources for kids with special needs. From infant sleep to movement-based language development, the term “special needs” encompasses children with developmental delays, disabilities, or neurodivergent identities.