Preschools for Kids with Special Needs

Parent Q&A

Special needs pre-k Jan 23, 2021 (1 responses below)
Preschool recommendations for special needs 4yr old Sep 24, 2019 (3 responses below)
Therapeutic preschool Mar 14, 2018 (1 responses below)
  • Special needs pre-k

    (1 reply)

    Hi all! We are looking for private preschool spots starting at age 2 that accept kiddos with special needs, including autism. We are looking in the Hayward and Fremont area. Any suggestions on where to look??? Thanks!

    RE: Special needs pre-k ()

    Check out Ascend in Union City...if they don't offer a program they could refer you one. Wishing you all the best!

  • Immediate need! On the search for a preschool that can/willing to support a 4yr Old with a speech & language delay, some hyperactivity and limited preschool experience. My ideal location would be in Alameda but willing to go further for the right fit.

    For reason of our own, we were unable to start preschool until this year. The preschool we were attending, came with high recommendations but turned out to be a poor choice. They were unwilling to deviate from they’re typical support strategies, for those suggested by our speech therapist, ones you might use for an english learner, and ended up viewing him as just a disruptive child that does not talk or listen.

    I would appreciate suggestions on where to look. Smaller class size, willingness to work with a special needs child with some hyperactivity, one that appreciates the progress and growth of the individual child even if it does not meet their academic goals.

    Did you check the East Bay Waldorf School, they have a 5 day program, small class, might be a great option. Good luck

    I highly recommend Growing Light Montessori. There is one in Kensington and one in Oakland. My child with special needs who needs a lot of support went to the one in Kensington and absolutely loved it. The owner is an amazing lady who truly understands what it takes to create an environment where every child is cherished and thrives. And the teachers went out of their way to make sure my child's needs were met. Most of all, it is a place where I feel confident to say that they truly put the children's best interests first (not every school does that). 

    This is much further but look at Wellspring Educational Services in Walnut Creek.  The teachers/ staff there are amazing!  

  • Therapeutic preschool

    (1 reply)

    Does anyone know of a therapeutic preschool that does NOT accept medicare in Oakland or at least DOES take private pay or other insurances? The ones I know of only take medicare. Thanks-

    RE: Therapeutic preschool ()

    Not sure about the private pay, sorry.

    Building Blocks Therapeutic Preschool, High St in Oakland

    Therapeutic Nursery School, near Childrens' Hospital on MLK in Oakland

    Best of luck.

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Seeking preschool for child with special needs

July 2014

Looking for a preschool that works with children that have special needs. If there are any in Oakland with openings please let me know. Thanks searching high and low

Depends on the needs. Duck 's Nest deals w a lot of SN. But I kept calling and asking questions and got my ASD kiddo into the (mainstream) program at Linda Beach in Piedmont. It's a fabulous program , and he thrived there. They were fabulous about accommodating his needs. However, it is not really suitable for a child w mobility issues.

Preschool: experience w/ hard-of-hearing kids

June 2013

We are thinking ahead about preschool options for my 3-year-old son. He is hard-of-hearing and has been attending the deaf/HoH toddler program with Oakland Unified, and has done really well there. He will likely be attending a typical elementary school come kindergarten, so we are looking at the next 2 years as a time for him to transition from a special needs to a typical setting.

Do any of you have recommendations for a preschool near the Oakland/Berkeley/Emeryville/Alameda area that has experience with deaf or hard-of-hearing preschoolers? Or, one that is good with children with special needs in general (he has a few other health issues, and while his language is great - he speaks and signs - he has speech needs and can be hard to understand)?

Also, any preschools possibly have an afternoon-only program, since my son will be attending the OUSD preschool program for deaf/HoH kids in the morning, but we may want to expose him to typical peers in an afternoon program?

Thank you so much for any leads that you may have! Don't know where to begin

When I was shopping for preschools, I came across the CEID in West Berkeley. It caters to hearing impaired through their Sunshine Preschool but also mixes in hearing kids. I don't have personal experience with it but looks promising. Here's a link to it:

As for afternoon preschools, a friend has been very happy at Griffin Nursery School on the Berk/Oak border. They break it down by age group--younger kids go in the morning and kids in their final year of preschool go in the afternoons. Preschool mama

You might call the Peninsula Oral School for the Deaf( San Mateo, I think) for advice on this. They've been around for a long time and know a lot about the resources for deaf and hard of hearing kids throughout the greater Bay Area. They work with and advise families from as far away as Santa Rosa and have some on-line educational modules, I think..some of it even interactive thru something like Skype, I hear.They probably could help you identify the essential needs of your child which would then help direct your search. They are a QUALITY program and have superb staff. I'm sure they'd be willing to speak with you. JM

2010 - 2012 Recommendations

Preschool for child with speech needs

Nov 2012

My son is 3 and has some speech and language delays for which he receives private speech therapy. He is in a lovely preschool, but I feel like the teachers don't have specific skills related to supporting his speech development, and I am reassessing what we might do next fall. Are there any preschools in Berkeley, Albany, or Oakland that have teachers with a speech pathology background or who are particularly talented at supporting language development in a speech-delayed child? It's not just about developing articulation skills (although that is high priority), but also the skill set in assisting our son in developing age appropriate social and learning skills despite his language delay. It takes more effort and patience to understand him, and to help him verbalize his thoughts, and I think he needs a teacher and an environment that knows more specially how to do that. I'm open to any suggestions from parents who have had similar issues with their own child. What else might be out there?

We live in the Lafayette School District and they have an Early Intervention Preschool located at Burton Valley Elementary School (it's called Penguins). I realize you don't live in this school district, but perhaps your district has one as well. Here's the link to the one in Lafayette: Lafayette Mama

Our 3 year old son attends Berkeley's King CDC where he is in a mixed classroom (both general ed and special needs). I cannot tell you how wonderful this has been this year for him. There are 15 spots (I think 5 are special needs in this classroom) in the class, and the teacher, speech therapist, occupational therapist, and assistants have been amazing. We visited extensively ahead of time and chose this particular classroom because we were so impressed by the teacher (and it seems all the other parents agree). I'm not sure why this is not more utilized by Berkeley parents, but we couldn't be happier. I'd be happier to give more information if you want. Mary

Preschool for sensory processing disorder and possible ASD

April 2011

Hi BPN, I am the mother of a beautiful almost 4 year old boy who has sensory processing disorder and may have ASD. I will not go into my reasons as why I don't think he has ASD, and no it is not denial as I am a pediatric physical therapist and have worked with children all over the spectrum. We live in the WCCUSD and have been in disagreement with them since he turned three as I refuse to put him in a robotic program with one hour of exposure to typically developing children per week. He was doing very well at a private Montessori program in Orinda, but we are about to lose that placement as they do not think he is ready for the 3.5 to 5 year old classroom but physically too big (he is 3 foot 4) for the younger prep class. He recieves OT 2 x per week at Suma Kids and Easter Seals denver floor time therapy 3 x per week. So with that summary and the rug pulled out from under us regarding his school placement today one week prior to May here is what I am asking my fellow BPNers.

1) Advice for a new preschool, or what is the best school district to get an interdistrict transfer to? (we have a good chance because school district is a year out of compliance regarding our son).

2) A good sensory integration trained speech therapist. We did not have good experience with Faltz and Associates or Herrick Alta Bates.

Please PBNers I am so frustrated. Children need to be treated for their individual impairments, not the ''diagnosis label'' Hoping for some good resources, all the best, Mother of Bear

Sorry I can't help with the preschool question, but the speech therapists at Communication Works in Oakland are extremely knowledgeable about sensory issues and deal with it in creative and beneficial ways. As a parent, I have learned a great deal about different methodologies and approaches I can take with my child, as they make sure to include the parents in the learning process. You can reach them at (510) 639-2929. Best of luck to you.

Regardless of the specific diagnosis, it sounds like you are taking the concerns seriously - we also have easter seals for my son - and he is six and has hf autism. When he was in preschool, we had him in a typical preschool with a push in aide for several years. This worked well until the last year when the day was too unstructured for him. We moved him to the Lafayette early intervention program preschool penguins --excellent. I had reservations about lack of exposure to typical kids (you have to qualify to get in to the program) but there was a wide range of children in the classes - some that were socially advanced but had physical disability, some on the spectrum, some were just a little too shy. The teachers are incredible and they use a floortime approach. My son blossomed and is now in mainstream K. you can email me if you want more information. best of luck. JJ

Sorry, I don't have any recommendations yet on a preschool but I was curious about your son's issue. Our son has a language disorder (MERLD - mixed expressive receptive language disorder) that gets misdiagnosed as autism (or ASD) all the time, though it's not ASD at all. In trying to find out what was the issue with my son, I found an online community of parents that have seen it all when it comes to language disorders and other disorders that sometimes accompany the language issues (sensory processing disorder, auditory processing disorder, dyspraxia, apraxia, etc) and they've been a wealth of advice and support for me in the last year ( They really help, too, with advice on navigating school districts, IEPs, bad schools, etc. We just moved to this area and started the process of getting our son evaluated by the school district for special needs and into a good preschool so I don't have much to report in that way yet. Please do take a look at the Natural Late Talkers forum. For many of us, it's the only guiding light and sane voice through this journey. CanRelate

2007 - 2009 Recommendations

Preschool for child with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)

Sept 2009

HI, My son was supposed to start a Waldorf preschool in the Fall. But, after observing him in a mini-day and talking to our OT they decided that it was not the right place for him. My 3 1/2 year old son really wants to go to school and make friends, but he has mild to moderate SPD that can be very challenging. I am currently waiting to get a new eval from our school district, but I would love to find a good preschool for him. I think that at this point we need a school that specializes in children with special needs. We live in Marin, but I am willing to travel for the right school. Please Help! I feel so sad and frustrated for him! SP

We just went through this with my son, who just turned 4. He's on his fourth preschool--in part because we moved and had to switch schools, but also because we had trouble finding the right situation for him after we moved. I know SPD runs the gamut of behaviors and symptoms, so this might not apply to your kid, but we found that the most important things were: low teacher ratio, class size (not too large but also not so small that they don't get the opportunity for socialization), structure, and the willingness of the staff to tailor their approach to our child and be extra nurturing. I love the waldorf approach but I think it's a bit too loosey-goosey for an SPD kid. Our son did well at his first preschool, which was Montessori--the philosophy emphasizes working at the child's developmental pace, so they were very kind about dealing with his particular issues. His current school is not Montessori, but has a very low teacher ratio, and the communication is very good with the staff. We sat down for a conference with the entire staff before he started and shared his IEP with them. Finding a school where the staff is comfortable working with the OT is also a plus. Good luck! It's definitely a stressful experience, but finding the right fit is pretty magical. mom to SPD kid

I was told my son had SPD at 3 y.o. It was bad. He couldn't do many things. We did brushing, compressions, etc. He was always getting thrown out of preschools. We stopped all the sensory tactics and kept him with me. Now he is 5 y.o. and he does'nt have 99% of those issues. If it is an option I would keep him home with you and till he out grows this things. -Jill

​​Finding a Pre-K for Language Delay

June 2008

I'm interested in finding a pre-K program my 4 year-old can attend next fall that provides language and communication support. He's a bright and generally happy guy, but he struggles with language and we want to do everything possible to get him up to speed so he can attend our local kindergarten the following year. I've heard great things about Happy Talkers, but it's in Dublin which is quite a drive. Does anyone know of any other similar programs closer to the Berkeley/Oakland area? anon

We've been going to the CSU East Bay Speech and Language Clinic for my son's speech/language delay. He goes twice per week for a one-hour, one-on-one session. Our clinician is terrific, relates extremely well to our three-year old and his speech has improved over the past two months as a result. My little guy loves to see his ''friend'' Ashleigh, aka the clinician.

I've heard that it can be difficult to get into the program, but if you're able to the cost is much more reasonable than private speech therapy @ $300 for a nine-week quarter (18 sessions). There's a summer session coming up that could be ideal since so many families take it off due to vacations, etc. It's more of drive than Berkeley/Oakland, but we've found it very worthwhile overall. Here's the link...

Tilden Elementary School in Oakland is great for children with language delays. I have personally seen the positive effects it has had on my friends daughter. Sara

If your son has a true language delay, he is eligible for free preschool (special education) through your local school district. If you live in Oakland, you can call the Diagnostic Center at 879-3070 for an assessment. If he meets the criteria (is delayed enough) you will be offered a preschool placement. It's a good program and early intervention is important. Good luck! anon

2004 - 2006 Recommendations

Preschool for Language Delay

Sept. 2004

I was wondering if anyone had recommendations for a preschool for our 2 1/2 year old son for the 2005 school year. He has a language delay with expressive being more delayed than receptive but I don't want to put him in a school specifically for delays since he's making such great progress. But I would like a school that has some kind of experience dealing with his kind of delay. We're new to the area and have learned that the application process begins soon for schools! Any advice would be appreciated! Amy


Preschool for 3-year-old with speech delay

June 2006

My son is currently seeing a speech therapist through Early Intervention for expressive speech delay (he's behind in his speech, but his comprehension is developmentally right on schedule). He will be 3 in August (graduating out of EI), and recently was evaluated by Preschool Assessment Services (Mt Diablo School District), and the folks there are recommending he attend a special ed preschool for children with language delay at Gregory Gardens Elementary. Pros - it's down the street from us, it's free, and it's supposed to be just like a regular preschool class except for it is taught by speech therapists and consists of children with speech issues. Our conundrum - we already had signed our son up with a co-op preschool that we are really jazzed about, which would start in the fall. We're going to observe the special ed preschool next week to see what we think, but I'm finding myself confused at to what would be best. Do any parents out there have experience with Gregory Gardens Preschool, or with preschool classes specifically for language delay? Were you satisfied with the experience your child had? I'm bummed about the possibility of not doing the co-op school, as parent participation is something I would love to do (I have the opportunity to be a SAHM right now, and would love to get involved in my son's school experience). Did anyone with speech delayed children put their kids in a non-specialized preschool program, and how did that go? (Particularly if it was a co-op). Any words of experience from folks would be greatly appreciated by a mom who is just trying to figure out what will be best for her son.
Confused about preschools

Don't know Gregory Gardens but my son (now 6) went through 2 years of preschool, K and is finishing up 1st, through OUSD, in a 'communicatively handicapped' special day class with wonderful teachers. The supplies and arts enrichment were lacking compared to the private preschool my daughter attended and others we looked at, but my son really benefitted from the language/speech support. Having all questions and instruction rephrased for some auditory processing and memory issues, and being able to accommodate his speech delays were key for us. Additionally, we really needed all the (free) SPT, OT and PT we received through the district. He's finishing up 1st grade at a different school with a CH program and will mainstream next fall at our local public school (repeating 1st grade). Definitely go observe the public school classes, and also talk to the co-op preschool about how they specifically would support your son's special needs. Good luck
Glad We Stayed in Spec. Ed.

My little girl started an early intervention preschool when she was three. She also had other issues besides speech difficulty (hers was dues to fluid in her ears and she needed tubes) She was also very small for her age. She received PT. OT and speech therapy but her comprehension of speech was always fairly good. By the time she was four she had quite a good vocabulary and was able to express her needs and she started going to a Montessori 2 days a week and the special ed preschool the pther 3 days a week. Her birthday is in January - by the time she was 5 the decided she didn't need speech therapy again until sometime later in Kindergarten, Right now our main concerns are with fine motor skills. I think it is very important that if a child can participate at least part time in a ''regular'' preschool - usually a privatly paid for school, that he be allowed to do so. I think that they learn a lot socially from their peers as well as they want to do the fine motor adn gross motor things that their peers can do. Unfortunately, the otnly way most of our special needs children can get speech therapy, OT, etc. is to go to the public school program where the services are administered. I suggest starting your child out in Gregory Gardens as I am told it is a good program and delay putting him into the coop program until you evaulate how he is doing and then have his IEP rewritten so that he goes to the special ed preschool only on the days he gets speech therapy and the coop school on the other days. By that time he may be three and a half or more and he will have some time in the co-op before heading off the kindergarten. Good luck!

Hi, I can sure understand your concerns about your child. My daughter had a speech delay and attended a communication preschool at Alta Bates. We did go and look at GG-it came very highly recommended to us and although it was over 10 years ago that we visted I think they have a awesome program and would welcome your parental involvement.

I would get as much intense speech help for your son while he is young. This is such a important time in his life to work on his speech skills and not to be taken lightly.I would go for a speech based school! GG would love to have you involved!
Another mom of speech delayed child

My daughter's audiologist recommended Gregory Gardens. I don't know if it is private or public school. My experience is that the public schools have a lot to offer especially in special education. We've been the private route and found it to vary so much by the kids in the class and the teacher. It has been a real disaster. I am glad we are now in the public school system in West Contra Costa. If you live in West Contra Costa, they have Cameron School Early Childhood intervention that is great and it's part of the public school system
parent of hard of hearing speach delayed child

2003 & Earlier

Preschool for 2-year-old with developmental delays

July 2003

Since the previous answers to this question seem to mention mostly North Berkeley pre-schools I thought i'd ask again for the Rockridge area or nearby. I'm looking for a pre-school for my two year old son who has some develomental delays so he would do best in a small classroom. He's a normal kid, very social but learns better if he's taught things and receives attention rather than left to play on his own. I'm open to a co-op also. Thank you!

It's frustrating, isn't it? When we were in a similar situation, the response to our son's delays was eye-opening! Preschools that purported to be ''tailored to each child's individual needs'' or that supposedly allowed kids to ''learn at their own pace'' either told us point-blank that they couldn't give our son the individual attention he needed, or else they couched their rejection by saying ''it wouldn't be the right fit.'' The only preschool specifically for special-needs kids (aside from early invervention programs like P.I.P. at Children's, which is only a few hours per week) that I found at the time was First Step, at Fairmount & 29th in Oakland, 238-0880. We never investigated, because we found an awesome nanny with special needs experience, so I'm only passing on the info, not necessarily recommending them. --Mom of Delayed Preschooler

Preschool for 4-year-old who needs lots of support

July 2003

What do wealthy parents do for their special-needs preschoolers?

We have a 4-year-old boy who is developmentally delayed. His speech has improved to the point that he no longer qualifies for special-ed preschool in the Oakland Unified School District. However, he is ill-suited to most private preschools because he needs constant direction, enthusiasm, involvement, and attention from the teachers. (Although he is cognitively at age level, he has sensory integration issues in addition to gross motor delays and a smattering of behavior problems.) I have unfortunately found that many preschools in Oakland and Berkeley either will not take on such a kid or are unable to provide knowledgable and appropriate support.

But...we have MONEY! We could hire a one-on-one therapist or a babysitter with special needs training, but my husband and I really want our son to be with typically developing preschoolers for socialization and peer learning. Any suggestions? Is there such a thing as a pricey, integrated exceptional-needs preschool in the East Bay?
Will Pay for the Right Preschool

Recommendations received:

Other advice:
Check out some of the Montessori Schools in your area. Montessori method is very adapatable to the needs of the individual child. Good luck. Helene

When our son was young, we also looked at Beacon School which claimed to have an interest in special children, but they weren't interested in our son at all.
A special needs parent

I suggest that you use your money to hire an aide who will provide for all of your child's specific needs in a preschool setting. Many preschools will allow a special needs child to join their school if that child has an experienced helper who can help the child assimilate into the environment. Many schools shy away from a special needs child because they do not have the staff to spend so much time with one child, and they also feel their staff may not be knowledgeable about e.g., sensory integration issues and how to address them. Students at local universities who might have an interest in special education might be particularly suitable aides. Just a thought... Kathy R

There are many options available to you in the community. First, I would recommend getting an independent evaluation outside of the school district. The district can and should pay for that, but if you are willing, you can seek this out. My experience shows that different evaluations will have different conclusions and while I am sure you are thrilled to know that your son has improved so much that he no longer qualifies, if it is borderline and you have an independent eval that qualifies him for services, you might still want him to have the advantage of the interventions (through OUSD) that will secure his forward direction. There are many excellent dev. Peds. in the area and/or therapists who will perform this type of evaluation and can forward the results to your district. Legally, the district will need to consider that evaluation and you can then make a case for services from that point. I can direct you further if you like. Additionally, you might look into multi-handicapped qualifications for your son in addressing his SI dysfunction and behavioral issues. This might qualify him for services in order to again achieve that intervention to be secure. We have our son in both a special needs environment as well as a typically developing pre-school. Just as you have probably found, our son will most likely be in a typically developing environment for elementary education and we need for him to see/observe/participate in a typically developing environment as a pre-schooler. There is one program I know of that is particularly sensitive to integration of special needs/typically developing integration and that is Step One, although I am pretty sure there's a wait to get in. My son's pre-school, however, has been incredibly understanding and supportive. They have allowed us to have our son attend as long as we provide an Aide/shadow for him while he's at school. Again, I would be happy to address this in more detail if you would like to contact me. There are many wonderful pre-school programs in the area that I would guess would be willing to work with and understand your son's situation if you explained and provided any safeguards they might require. Best of luck to you and your family. This can be a challenging road, but it is a workable one.

Planning for Baby with a range of different delays

January 2002

My baby (12 months old) is somewhat delayed and is being seen by Early Intervention. I am gathering information on preschools and child care who will take special needs babies/toddlers. She has a wide range of different delays -from several months (mostly truncal and upper body hypotonia) to a few weeks (she is very close to age in language development). She may well "catch up" in the next year but I am collecting data anyway as I suspect most places will have a waiting list. Thanks! Cindy

Recommendations received: