Our History

The Help Group (THG) as we know it today began in 1975 as an outgrowth of the Speech Therapy Center that was incorporated as a 501 (c)(3) organization in 1957. Later becoming The Children’s Speech and Hearing Center, it was founded as an outpatient treatment program for children with communicative disorders because there were very few services available to children and families with special needs. THG has evolved over six decades to meet the complex social issues of our time by creating a vast network of special education day schools, community-based programs and innovative services now serving more than 6,000 children and their families in our community who need it most.

Founder & CEO Emerita – Barbara Firestone, PhD

Dr. Barbara Firestone joined Children’s Speech and Hearing Center in 1975. Her career path was inspired by an experience in college with a little boy named Timmy, who had severe autism and whose family did not have access to resources in the community. As a result of witnessing the challenges Timmy and his family faced, Dr. Firestone chose to become a speech and language pathologist and dedicate her efforts to improving the lives of children with special needs and their families.

As President and CEO, Dr. Firestone’s commitment and can-do spirit built philanthropic, governmental and university partnerships that led to the growth and development of our agency. Over the past several decades, The Help Group has become one of the largest and most comprehensive nonprofits of its kind in the United States to serve young people with special needs. Dr. Firestone spearheaded The Help Group’s major expansion efforts developing five state-of-the-art campuses throughout the Los Angeles area to open the doors of opportunity to countless children.

Through her public advocacy efforts, Dr. Firestone was a prominent figure championing change at the local, state, and national levels. She has been widely recognized for her efforts in advocating for young people with autism spectrum disorder and served as the Vice Chair of the California Legislative Blue-Ribbon Commission on Autism and was appointed to a leadership role in support of the California Senate Select Committee on Autism & Related Disorders.

Her collaborative endeavors with universities and thought leaders throughout the country have contributed to the advancement of research and professional training. In 1997, she established the widely recognized annual Summit – Advances and Best Practices in Autism, Learning Disabilities and ADHD. In 2000, Dr. Firestone collaborated with the UCLA Semel Institute to establish The Help Group – UCLA Neuropsychology Program and in 2008, The Help Group – UCLA Autism Alliance. Together with the USC Chan Division, she helped to launch The Help Group – USC Occupational Science Initiative in 2015.

Dr. Firestone’s message to our greater community was, “We like to think that help means hope, and that every child, adolescent, young adult, or adult, when given the opportunity can make strides. Throughout the years, we have been dedicated to our mission to providing these opportunities, to building greater public awareness, to dismantling barriers to dignity, access, and equity, and to building bridges to public acceptance and understanding.”

To share the voices of families and to portray the dignity, beauty and promise of young people on the spectrum, two projects close to Dr. Firestone’s heart have been her highly acclaimed books, Faces of Promise: Looking Beyond Autism and Autism Heroes: Portraits of Families Meeting the Challenge that continue to provide a lifeline of hope and support for families.

Recognizing the transformative power of the arts for children with special needs, Dr. Firestone, board member emerita of Music for Autism established The Help Group as its West Coast partner. Produced in collaboration with and generously funded by Bear Givers, Dr. Firestone developed the annual Festival of Arts: Through Our Eyes art exhibition.

2023 marked a significant milestone in the history of The Help Group with Dr. Firestone’s retirement after 48 years of unwavering commitment to helping young people with special needs more fully realize their potential to lead positive, productive, and rewarding lives. We extend our deepest gratitude to Dr. Firestone for dedicating her life’s work to The Help Group. In recognition of Dr. Firestone’s far-reaching legacy, as she assumes the title of Founder and CEO Emerita, The Help Group dedicated its main campus in Sherman Oaks in her honor.

Co-Founder, President & CEO – Susan Berman, PhD

In October 2023, The Help Group’s Board of Directors was pleased to announce the appointment of Dr. Susan Berman as President and CEO. For more than 40 years, Dr. Berman has been an integral part of The Help Group’s history, most recently serving as Executive Director. Her deep belief in the mission that “Everyone deserves a great future” has played a pivotal role in the growth and development of The Help Group.

Dr. Berman is widely recognized as a dynamic innovator whose cutting-edge initiatives have always been far ahead of their time. With an ability to cast a wide net, she has been integral in establishing programs to accommodate the ever-changing needs of the diverse communities we serve. Her far-reaching vision and steadfast commitment to young people ensures that individuals with special needs realize their fullest potential to lead positive, productive, and rewarding lives.

Dr. Berman is passionately committed to ensuring that The Help Group meets with compassion the ever-pressing needs of those in our community who seek its services. With deep optimism and a collaborative spirit, Dr. Berman states, “I see windows not walls in the face of challenges, and fervently believe that together we can make a difference.”

Under Dr. Berman’s leadership, The Help Group is a beacon of hope that it has been since its founding – a place where young people can feel recognized for their potential and celebrated for what they can achieve – a place where differences are considered strengths and a place where brighter futures are created.