When Daniel Amoroso was an infant, his parents, Venessa and Tom Amoroso, sensed that something was wrong. He laughed a lot, without reaching other developmental milestones.
When Daniel was 15 months old, Mr. Amoroso did an Internet search for "excessive laughter in infants," and the first result was what Daniel eventually would be diagnosed with: Angelman syndrome.
The neurological genetic disorder's hallmarks are big smiles and lots of laughter. Children with the disorder generally face speech and developmental delays and suffer from seizures.
About one in 15,000 children suffer from the disease.
"Our doctors never suspected it," Mrs. Amoroso said.
Despite Daniel's diagnosis, like many mothers of small children, Mrs. Amoroso enrolled Daniel in local music classes and play programs, but she and Daniel weren't warmly received by other moms because Daniel's behavior wasn't like that of the other kids.
The first time she took Daniel to a Mommy and Me music class, "I had three people turn around and ask me, 'Why are you even here?' " Amoroso said.
She left the class early, sat in her car and cried.
As Daniel got older, her frustrations with finding safe, welcoming spaces for Daniel didn't go away.
She said she struggled to find a place to host his fourth birthday party in November -- somewhere Daniel could play with his friends.
"Everything was just hard because he can't do much," Mrs. Amoroso said.
They settled on a local space filled with inflatables. Everyone had fun, but she followed Daniel around as he worked hard to make his way up and down the play equipment.
The experience, however, inspired her, and this month she opened the Wings to Fly Playspace at 647G Park Meadow Road in Westerville.
"I was thinking of all these young ones who don't have a place to play," she said. "I know this isn't much, but I just said to my husband, 'We have to come up with something.' "
The main room of the space is filled with toys, play equipment and a ball pit aimed at developing children's gross motor skills.
A side room has toys meant to help with fine motor skills, and a classroom offers a space in which Baby Signs, art classes and other courses will be offered. Another room will provide a quiet space for children who become overwhelmed during play or activities.
Mrs. Amoroso said she equipped the space with things she knows Daniel enjoys, as well as items recommended by Daniel's occupational therapist.
The open playtimes and the classes, which will be taught by instructors who have children with special needs, are open to all children, not just those with special needs.
"These aren't just for the special-needs kids. I love the idea of a peer model," such as the one in Daniel's Westerville preschool class, which combines children with special needs and typically developing children, Mrs. Amoroso said. "I know Danny learns from the kids."
The play space is funded by the Wings to Fly Foundation, which the Amoroso family -- which also includes 9-year-old Nicole -- started last year to raise money to provide resources to central Ohio families who have children with special needs.
Mrs. Amoroso said other parents have provided positive feedback about her venture, and her hope is that it grows to include more classes and a space for older children, and options to rent the space out to therapists or for private events.
"We just want to be a resource for families and give them a space," Mrs. Amoroso said.
While Wings to Fly is the result of the struggles she has faced as mother to a special-needs child, she is modest about her ventures.
While having a special-needs child comes with its challenges, Mrs. Amoroso said Daniel's big smiles, friendliness and frequent hugs fill her life with joy.
She said she celebrates each of his successes, such as learning to walk last June.
"Every little milestone to me is, like, oh my gosh," she said. "My kids are truly blessings, and I can't imagine it another way.
"I am not a special mom, and I always thought you had to be a special mom to have a special-needs kid."
For more information on the Wings to Fly play space, visit WingstoFlyPlayspace.com.