A San Diego mom wants to help families with special needs children face their challenges with something simple: a playdate.
Tiffany Lees recently started a non-profit called Special Needs Playdate, after realizing how desperately her own family needed the interaction and support. She says she felt people were constantly judging her parenting any time she would take her son with special needs in public, whether it was to a restaurant or to somewhere like the fair.
"I learned really quickly that it's really isolating and you get judged," Lees said.
Her five-year-old son Dylan has been diagnosed with autism and is visually impaired in his right eye. Lees says Dylan functions at the level of a two-year-old. During a very tough time for the family, Lees and her husband realized they hadn't all been out together in public for three months, because it was just too difficult.
"We just realized, ok, we're done trying to see if it's going to be better," said Lees, "What can we do to move on from here?"
They decided to call a restaurant, ask for a table in an area where her family would be comfortable, and invite other families. It was the first special needs playdate. It was a success, and they eventually moved the events to an indoor play facility. The playdates now happen a few times a month. They offer families a chance to get out of the house and spend time with people who can understand first-hand what they're going through.
Diane Erth has attended the playdates with her son Max. "The children get to play and make friends in a fun environment where nobody will judge them for taking longer to climb over a hurdle or cross over a balance beam. The parents get a chance to bond with fellow parents who understand our daily struggles and triumphs," said Erth.
Lees says her nine-year-old daughter Mikaila, who does not have special needs, also benefits by being around other similar siblings.
"There is a need for it, and there was nothing out there. So I thought I'd go on a new adventure and find out how to make it work," said Lees.
Lees formed the non-profit so she can fundraise and expand the program. Long term, she'd like to open a spot that offers a safe place for families with special needs children, 24 hours a day. She also hopes fundraising will allow her to hold the playdate for free, or at a low cost.
"Our kids just want to be accepted as they are. As parents, we want the same for our kids as 'typical' parents do. We want our kids to be happy," said Erth.
Special Needs Playdate is hosting its first ever Family Fun Day and fundraiser Saturday, September 19 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. in Coronado.
For details, visit the Special Needs Playdate website.