Groups & Therapies

Groups and therapies can be a great source of support for children with special health care needs. Groups can help children build skills and interact with others. Therapies may also be needed for certain conditions. This page offers an overview of groups and therapies that may be of help to children with special health care needs.


Social Skills Groups

Social Skills groups focus on teaching children skills to help improve their ability to make and keep friends, develop more self-confidence, and behave appropriately. These groups are led by therapists and offer a great way for your child to learn basic social skills like sharing, turn taking, friendship skills, understanding feelings, interacting with other children, etc.
Role-plays and group interaction will give your child chances to practice these skills during group sessions. The therapist will help the children practice and repeat a desired behavior, offering plenty of praise and encouragement, reinforcing that behavior. Social Skills groups teach about following rules, participation, and use of appropriate social skills, while also encouraging children to practice these skills outside of the session. The first step to find a social skills group for your child is to talk to your health care team to identify research-based programs.
To find Social Skills Groups in your area:

Support Groups or Playgroups

Children with special needs benefit from playgroups, just like any other child. Playgroups are a great way for children to interact with other kids and build social skills while having fun. They are also a good opportunity for you to spend time with other parents and caregivers that understand parenting a child with special needs.
There are many playgroups for children with special needs; the trick is finding them. A good way to begin your search is to ask your child’s health care team, Early Intervention specialist, or therapist for recommendations about established playgroups in the area. You can also talk to other parents of children with special needs; they are some of the best resources for this type of information.
Some playgroups or support groups are organized around a specific disability or diagnosis; others might serve parents and children with a variety of conditions or disabilities. If you join a parent-run play group, you’ll want to stay with your child until you get the feel for the group and are able to find out if the other parents in the group are able and willing to provide the care and support that your child may need when you are away.
If you are not able to find an appropriate playgroup for your child, you could start your own area playgroup. Post a message with a forum or group dedicated to parenting children with special needs, or at your child’s therapist’s office or clinic. Include a suggested age range and any other specifics about the children that will be in the playgroup. Another option is to join a playgroup that is not specifically designed for special needs children. A search of the internet should result in resources to contact in your area. Many playgroups will welcome children with special needs, whether or not they were designed for that purpose. Typically-developing children can benefit greatly from learning to interact at an early age with children with special needs, and your child will make new friends while you enjoy the company of other parents.

Physical, Occupational, Speech and Language Therapies

Therapies are vital in the development of life skills for a number of conditions. If you and your child’s doctor decide that your child will be helped by therapy, you will likely be referred for an evaluation to decide the types of therapy your child may participate in. Your child may work with pediatric specialists licensed in a variety of different types of therapies, such as physical, occupational, speech and language, or audiology. Depending on your child’s needs, he may work with multiple therapists.

Physical Therapy

"Physical therapists focus on gross motor skills and functional mobility, including positioning; sitting; transitional movement such as sitting to standing; walking with or without assistive devices (such as walkers, crutches) and orthoses (braces) or prostheses (artificial limbs); wheelchair propulsion; transfers between the wheelchair and other surfaces such as a desk chair, toilet, or bath; negotiation of stairs, ramps, curbs, and elevators; and problem-solving skills for accessibility of public buildings." [Michaud: 2004]
Physical therapists can often help children with birth injuries, developmental delays, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, torticollis, spina bifida, sports injuries, and other conditions.

Occupational Therapy

"Occupational therapists focus on fine motor, visual-motor, and sensory processing skills needed for basic activities of daily living." [Michaud: 2004] This might include helping your child feed or dress herself, improving handwriting, going to the bathroom independently, and many other age appropriate skills.

Speech Therapy

Speech therapy focuses on receptive language, or the ability to understand words spoken to you, and expressive language, or the ability to use words to express yourself. It also deals with the mechanics of making words, such as articulation, pitch, fluency, and volume. For children, it generally involves working on milestones that have been delayed. Some children only need help with language, others may have problems with the mechanics of speech, and some may need help with both.


Pediatric Audiology provides hearing diagnostic and rehabilitation services to infants and children with a wide range of hearing disorders. The audiologist can refer to resources that are helpful for children with hearing impairment.

Finding the Right Therapies for Your Child

Talk with your child's health care team about recommendations for local therapy services, Contact your insurance provider to see what therapy services may be covered, and which providers are in your network.
To find the Early Intervention Part C Program in your community:
  • Ask your child’s health care team to put you in touch with the Early Intervention (EI) program in your community or region
  • See links in the Resources section below for further information regarding EI programs in your community


Information & Support

For Parents and Patients

Pediatric Rehabilitation Services - Intermountain Healthcare
This page provides a list of pediatric rehabilitation conditions that Intermountain Healthcare doctors and therapists treat.

RiteCare Scottish Rite Childhood Language Program
The RiteCare Scottish Rite Childhood Language Program offers speech therapy for children 2 - 12 years at no cost if the child qualifies. Locations throughout the United States.

Family Voices
A national, nonprofit, family-led organization promoting quality health care for all children and youth, particularly those with special health care needs. Locate your Family-to-Family Health Information Center by state.

Family Voices (FVAO) or Health Information(F2F) Center
Family-to-Family Health Information Centers are nonprofit, family-staffed organizations that assist families of children and youth with special health care needs (CYSHCN). Locate state-based F2F HICs, providing support, information, resources, and training.

Parent Training and Information Centers (PTI)
Provide training and information to parents of infants, toddlers, children, and youth with disabilities and to people who work with parents to enable them to participate more fully and effectively with professionals in meeting the educational needs of their children with disabilities. See the link for Download a List of Parent Centers across the USA to find the parent center in your state; U.S. Department of Education.

Find Your Parent Center
Parent Centers provide education and referrals for families with a child who has a disability, as well as the professionals who work with them. There are almost 100 Parent Training and Information Centers (PTIs) and Community Parent Resource Centers (CPRCs) in the US states and Territories; Center for Parent Information & Resources.

State Part C Early Intervention Coordinators
Lists state contacts for Early Intervention (Part C) agencies and is an easy way to locate the person in charge of your state’s Early Intervention programs; National Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center (ECTA Center).

Services for Patients & Families Nationwide (NW)

For services not listed above, browse our Services categories or search our database.

* number of provider listings may vary by how states categorize services, whether providers are listed by organization or individual, how services are organized in the state, and other factors; Nationwide (NW) providers are generally limited to web-based services, provider locator services, and organizations that serve children from across the nation.

Authors & Reviewers

Initial publication: April 2013; last update/revision: June 2020
Current Authors and Reviewers:
Author: Gina Pola-Money
Reviewer: Tina Persels
Authoring history
2013: update: Alfred N. Romeo, RN, PhDCA
2013: first version: Shena McAuliffe, MFACA; Tina PerselsCA
AAuthor; CAContributing Author; SASenior Author; RReviewer

Page Bibliography

Michaud LJ.
Prescribing therapy services for children with motor disabilities.
Pediatrics. 2004;113(6):1836-8. PubMed abstract / Full Text
Overview of physical, occupational, and speech-language therapies and the pediatricians role in prescribing those therapies.