No matter where I go with my special needs daughter Dawn, there is invariably going to be someone there to say, “hey Dawn!” I then ask, “Who is that?” She replies, “a friend.” Then I go, “from school or where?” The answer always surprises me. Why have I not met this person? It’s usually because they are the mom, friend or caregiver of another student or friend. My daughter has no problem meeting people. She will talk to someone in line at the grocery store, theater or restaurant. She has a place in her heart for the homeless she sees about town and wants to talk them and help them. She wants to be a mayor and/or a policewoman so she can effect changes. She wants to get married and live on a ranch with animals she rescues in a big house so she can have all of her friends and family live with her.

Bold dreams for someone with the intelligence of an eight year old, but her heart is that of a Mother Teresa. That is how she meets so many people. With her heart and her smile. She asks me, “Why do boys smile at me?” My only response is simple, “because you smile first.”

She has three older sisters, two nieces and a large extended family. She has caregivers and medical/therapeutic specialist that she sees on a regular basis. Dawn has a village. But, still she craves meeting new people. Dawn hopes to find the love of her life, soon.

It is imperative that young adults with learning/mental disabilities be exposed to the world at large. People with mental disabilities or special needs have social needs as well. They need to learn, at as early an age as possible, to interact with the good, bad and ugly of all people. Most people are pleasant and understanding. When they aren’t Dawn sees them for who they are, sad or lonely or just plain mean but she discerns that for herself. She does not waste time with someone who is negative or mean to her. It doesn’t hurt her feelings because she doesn’t rely on them for her self-worth or self-esteem.

Dawn was included in regular classes at public school and even in private schools she went on field trips where she interacted with all kinds of people, not just ones with special needs.

This inclusion is invaluable. I thought when Dawn was born that I had to protect her from people who could tease her or treat her badly. But, she soon taught me that her interaction with others was vital in her being able to accept her world as it is and not some isolated bubble.

There are so many other ways to help with this process of inclusion.

The ARC of Greater Tarrant County, has a monthly dance that is a perfect setting for the young adults to socialize with peers. The Special Olympics, where there are lots of people who have a shared interest. Other activities like the Miracle League in Arlington, a Texas Ranger’s Charity Foundation partner; Camp Summit Tx and many others if you ask other parents.

The goal is always to keep our children and young adults safe and by allowing them the time to be who they are in the world they live in is definitely a good place to start the socializing process. Who knows they may find the love of their lives and get married, become mayor or a policewoman, or create a program to help the homeless. There is no developmental cap on the heart.