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To Parents Who May Be Hesitant to Arrange Play Dates With Special Needs Families

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Dominic at least a few times a week will tell me, “Need to call Bella’s mom!” Who is Bella you may ask? Here is the answer to that question:
letter tiles that spell out Dominic is Bellas very best friend

A little background — I first met Bella shortly after Dominic’s first grand mal seizure. Dominic and I had just been to his follow-up doctor’s appointment after being in the pediatric emergency room at our local hospital. I was still a bit spaced out and I think still in shock from riding with Dominic in an ambulance. There’s nothing quite like having an ambulance come to your home, having the paramedics put your child on a stretcher and then go full speed with the sirens going.

His pediatrician had just told us we would need to go to a pediatric neurologist. We had stopped briefly in the dairy aisle at the grocery store to grab a gallon of milk, and I heard a voice behind us saying, “There’s Dominic!” I turned around and saw a young girl, Bella, and her mom, Kelle, walking towards us. I had no idea who they were.

Dominic and Bella.

The first thing I noticed about Bella was that she was so happy to see Dominic. She had the biggest smile I had ever seen! Evidently, Dominic and Bella had met when they were in fifth grade together when he was mainstreamed into one of her classes. We chatted for a bit and what Kelle told me before we left floored me. She said, “I would love to get our children together and be in Dominic’s life however much you will let us!”

girl posing behind boy holding a heart-shaped Valentine's card
Dominic with Bella and her Valentine’s Day card.

Wow. Just wow. Do you know how long I had waited to have another mom ask me that? Dominic did have a bunch of play dates when he was about 2 or 2 and a half years old with another mom and her two kids. They pretty much ignored Dominic and played with his sister, Lauren. When Lauren was in school, I volunteered all the time. The few times I volunteered in Dominic’s classroom, he got really stressed out because he thought something was wrong. It can be very different when you have a child in a special education classroom.

About a month or so ago, Dominic went over to Bella’s house for his first ever play date without me hanging around. I was really apprehensive for him, because number one, he has had four seizures, and number two, I wasn’t sure how he would cope. Would he tell me to stay? Would he get upset when I left him there by himself?

Well, when we got to Bella’s house, he sat down at their kitchen table and made himself right at home. I said, “Bye, Dominic, I’m leaving!” He said, “Bye!” He didn’t get up or hug me goodbye. As I was driving back home, tears kept welling up in my eyes. I had so many emotions. Kelle knew instinctively as a mom I would be wondering how he was doing, so before me even asking, she sent me two videos and some pictures.

boys playing with a toy train set on the floor
Dominic playing with Kelle’s younger son.

Kelle has two other children (both boys), one older than Dominic and one younger. Dominic played trains with Kelle’s younger son. I had planned to come at 4 p.m. and pick Dominic up, but she said he wanted to stay longer. I didn’t want to impose, so I asked if that was OK with her, and she said it was. He had a fantastic time.

If I could give advice to a parent who may be hesitant or unsure of setting up a play date with a parent of a special needs child, just ask. I can tell you with certainty, because I have been there, it can be very isolating to be a special needs parent. You already have one thing in common with us: We are parents, too.

Thanks, Kelle, for making Dominic’s first play date so memorable. It’s really hard to put into words what you and your kids did and continue to do for our entire family. But, I will try: Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Follow this journey on Bountiful Plate.

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Originally published: April 10, 2016
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