Children with disabilities and other special needs and their families have several options for assessment, treatment, support, and advocacy. "Special needs" can encompass a wide range of behaviors and conditions, and the resources below span this range. For resources related specifically to mental health, see the Behavioral Health resource page.
The Special Needs Referral Matrix includes a wide range of local agencies and non-profits supporting special needs children ages 0-5. Click on the link to download the grid. Contact information on the second page can help you to determine which services a child may qualify for. The grid also includes information about who to ask if a family is having problems accessing services.
For a child ages 2.75 and older, parents/guardians can go directly to their neighborhood school and ask for the child to be screened. Based on the screening, a child may be assessed further and considered for special education preschool services. At age three, children in the Tri-Counties Early Start program are automatically referred to their school district for consideration for assessment. Medical treatment also continues with Medi-Cal and private insurance coverage. Certain severely disabled children will continue to receive some non-educational services through Tri-Counties.
Martha's Place provides comprehensive assessments for children with behavioral issues who could be eligible for County Mental Health services (Medi-Cal or sliding scale). High-risk children with a history of prenatal drug or alcohol exposure or other risk factor are also eligible for an assessment if they are enrolled in Medi-Cal.
BEST-PALS is funded by First 5 of SLO County to provide assessments and short-term treatment for children who do not qualify for other assessments. Any child is welcomed through age 5.
Note that none of these providers ask about a family's immigration status.
TIP: If parents are referred to a pediatrician or agency for assessment by their preschool, they can bring the ASQ or other developmental screening that the preschool has conducted to give the doctor a better understanding of the situation.
For eligible children younger than age 3, Tri-Counties Early Start provides home-based services. The County Office of Education serves low-incidence children (the visually impaired, deaf and hard of hearing, and orthopedically impaired) ages 0-3. For these services, the point of entry is through Tri-Counties, which contracts with the County Office of Education. School districts are responsible to provide certain educationally required services for children ages three and older with disabilities , as determined by the screening and assessment and agreed on in the Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Children 3 and older who continue to receive Tri-Counties support may receive behavioral services or other services related to their individual needs through Tri-Counties.
BEST-PALS provides short-term treatment, including speech and occupational therapy and parent education, for qualified children. And Medi-Cal will cover medically necessary treatment; parents should work with their pediatrician for approval of services and with CenCal, the Medi-Cal managed care plan, to find a provider. California Children's Services (CCS) covers treatment for certain medical conditions for families with an income of up to $40,000. The CCS Medical Therapy Program provides physical and occupational therapy for certain medical conditions regardless of family income level. They have locations in Atascadero, Oceano, Paso Robles, and SLO.
Both Parents Helping Parents and the Autism Spectrum Center offer parents support groups, resources, and advice from experienced parents. Parents Helping Parents also has a special needs library and regular workshops on a variety of topics from adaptive technology to legal questions. Parent Connection, at sloparents.org, offers a listing of parent support groups.
Respite Care & Financial Assistance
For children ages 3 and older who continue to receive services from Tri-Counties, Tri-Counties can help parents access respite care. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) through the Social Security Department provides benefits for disabled children in limited income households. To keep a child at home, In-Home Support Services (IHSS) may be able to compensate parents for the extra time that the care of their disabled child involves. And a Medi-Cal waiver can be obtained by parents whose incomes are above the Medi-Cal limit to provide secondary insurance for a child being cared for at home instead of in an institution. Parents Helping Parents can assist parents in determining whether they qualify for these resources.
Need help getting services? Advocacy groups for children with special needs include: