Special Needs Playdates for Special Needs Parents

Photo by Amy Storch
We attended a playdate last weekend -- a nice big one, with a good half-dozen kids running around. We, the parents, attempted to squeeze in a few moments of camaraderie and coffee in between rescuing our toddlers from various precarious surfaces or shouting, "GENTLE GENTLE GENTLE!" at our preschoolers from across the room.

Every parent there had at least one special-needs child -- they all go to school together -- so it's safe to assume that we're all used to being pretty open about our children. All anyone has to do is ask us where our kids go to school and it's inevitable that within minutes we're giving a quick explanation about our school district's special education preschool program.

But oh, I was still so relieved after I asked one of the other mothers about summer camp plans or something similar, to hear her just put it all out there and actually use the word delays.


It was as if I was prepared to dance around that issue or even pretend it didn't exist -- "it" being the very connection that brought our children together in the first place -- until someone else brought it up. Delays. Our children have delays. Okay. We're talking about it, then.

And the floodgates opened and everybody started talking about it. The tantrums, the motor skills, the therapy, the diets, the constant comparisons to "typical" siblings. Basically everything I've probably talked about to the Internet, but this time, in person. A person who could also nod and smile and sadly sympathize ... and most importantly, laugh with me about it.

It was refreshing to be in a room full of lovely, fun, capable parents who all had quirky, challenging kids. We understood each other, possibly better than we understand our children some days. We admitted shying away from "things like this" because being around typically developing kids makes US feel badly. It's hard on US.

Here, nobody cared that all the kids -- despite being SO EXCITED about the get-together -- were basically ignoring each other now that they were together. Nobody cared about who was potty-trained and who wasn't and who was screaming and who needed to go sit in a quiet room for a little while. We told our battle stories and moments of total comedy. We swapped diagnosis and doctors and diets.

I remember asking our very first speech therapist if EI had any type of parents' group or playdate connection available -- they didn't at the time but launched a nice website/message board thing right around the time we left the program. I've done a few playdates this year and admit I'm always a little disappointed when the other parent suggests we make it a drop-off thing or a nanny shows up instead. A few parents and kids at Noah's private program have a standing weekly get-together that I know about but have never been invited to, which I admit hurt my feeeeeeeeelings and discouraged me from just butting in and inviting them over sometime. The school district has monthly parent get-togethers that are intended to be a support group sort of thing ... but I can't bring Ezra and there's no childcare provided. I'm part of a hugely supportive online community, but still feel SO ALONE sometimes.

This weekend's playdate was so good for Noah and probably even better for me, for my spirits, for my soul. I'm going to make sure we have more of them from now on.


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