Soul Mates: With help from family and friends, this couple’s disabilities don’t hinder their romance

  • Cade Holden and Danielle Martin watch WW Wrestling at Cades home in Northampton Sunday afternoon. CAROL LOLLIS/GAZETTE STAFF

  • The pair watch WWE Wrestling at Holden’s home in Northampton on a Sunday afternoon. CAROL LOLLIS/GAZETTE STAFF

  • Cade Holden and Danielle Martin met when they were 8 years old. Above they pose during a play date back then. At left, they are shown on vacation in Florida two years ago.

  • Cade Holden of Northampton expresses disbelief that Danielle Martin of Chicopee just missed picking up her spare during a recent double date with friends at Spare Time bowling alley in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Cade Holden, second from left, of Northampton and Danielle Martin, right, of Chicopee enjoy a double date with Garett Dejordy, left, of Montgomery and Adrian Isham of Hamden at Spare Time in Northampton on Sunday, April 9, 2017. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Danielle Martin and Cade Holden check the scoreboard during a bowling double date with friends. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Cade Holden of Northampton and Danielle Martin of Chicopee enjoy a double date with friends at Spare Time in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Cade Holden, left, of Northampton high fives Garett Dejordy of Montgomery on picking up a spare during a bowling double date with Danielle Martin and Adrian Isham at Spare Time in Northampton on Sunday, April 9, 2017. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Cade Holden and Danielle Martin on vacation in Florida. Maggie Rice—Contributed Photo

  • Cade Holden and Danielle Martin at their high school prom. Maggie Rice—Contributed Photo

Staff Writer
Published: 5/23/2017 3:26:00 PM

When Cade Holden struggles to read the menu at a restaurant, Danielle Martin walks him through it. When he sometimes struggles to find the right words, she helps him. 

When Martin is nervous around others, Holden puts her at ease with his uninhibited ability to be himself. He calms her nerves by giving her a hug or rubbing her back. 

When they are watching WWE Wrestling on the couch at Holden’s mom’s house in Northampton, sometimes they hold hands.

“She is beautiful and she is nice to me,” says Holden. “She comforts me if I feel down.”

Holden and Martin are both 20. He has Down syndrome and she has autism. They are inseparable and in love. They plan to get married one day.

“We always look at their relationship as a fairytale,” says Martin’s mother, Sharon Martin of Chicopee. “They are sweet together. Where one lacks the other will pick up.”

Thanks to family and friends and Whole Children and Milestones, programs in Hadley that provides educational and social opportunities for people with developmental disabilities, they have the support they need to keep their relationship strong and healthy.

“They are very in tune with each other — on every level,” says Holden’s mother, Maggie Rice of Northampton. “They don’t always need to talk to communicate.”

The pair met in school when they were 8.

They danced together at each other’s high school proms. They go bowling on Sunday afternoons. They like to go out to eat and splash around in the backyard pool in the summer. 

“With Cade I feel like I have someone to talk to besides my mom, someone I can open up to,” Martin says.

Help when needed 

They are like any other young couple in a loving relationship, but they might need some extra help along the way, says Chris Harper, a special education teacher who works at Whole Children.

The pair has taken classes like “Growing up” and “Boundaries and Relationships” at Whole Children, which was founded in 2004 by a group of parents, including Rice, who wanted to fill gaps in area services for children with special needs. The center also offers enrichment programs like gymnastics, music, martial arts, and dance which include typical kids. For those who need extra help, there is one-on-one counseling. Whole Children also has dance parties and potlucks, where the kids can socialize and maybe even meet someone they would like to date, Harper says.

“We are always saying, ‘Get each others’ numbers, go hangout, do stuff,’ ” says another teacher, Brian Melanson. Despite all this, it is rare to see a relationship develop like Holden’s and Martin’s, he says. 

Some of the classes they have taken at Whole Children get into what puberty is. They also have taken classes at Milestones, a separate program housed in the same space, which caters to adults with special needs. In classes there, instructors teach what sex is and how to identify the feeling of attraction. They might talk about problems with co-workers or family members, and role play to find solutions.

“They helped us work out any issues we were having,” Martin says.

For example, once Holden needed to find a way to tell Martin that he doesn’t like talking on the phone as much as she does, says Melanson.

“He was very sweet. She took it; it was fine,” he says.

The classes are tailored to whomever is taking them and what their needs are. For the older students, how to use a condom might be a topic, but most of the students aren’t yet interested or comfortable talking about sex, says Harper.

But it’s not uncommon for teens to ask for help in seeking out a girlfriend or boyfriend, she says.

“People say that meeting people is the challenge.” They say, “I don’t know who is attracted to me, how do you know?”

Sometimes it is difficult to answer these questions. Sometimes it is hard to get parents to accept that their children have a right to romantic relationships, says Melanson. Other parents might not have the time or the inclination to help plan dates or to drive their children to go to social outings.

A mother’s support

That is not the case for Rice. She helps Holden and Martin get together by providing transportation for dates and welcoming Martin, who lives in Chicopee, into their home for frequent visits. If Martin’s family can’t drive her to Northampton, Rice picks her up.

In fact, Martin spends so much time at Holden’s and Rice’s home, that it seems like she is part of the family already, says Rice. She regularly takes trips with them, like the one to Harry Potter World in Florida.

Likewise, Holden spends time at the Martin home.

“He is like the son that I never had,” Sharon Martin says.

Sometimes autistic people don't like to be touched, she says, but her daughter enjoys Holden’s hugs.

“Cade is always hugging. It wouldn’t be a day without a hug from Cade,” Sharon Martin says. 

When they go on dates, the couple is always able to get rides from family or friends, but often it’s Rice at the wheel. 

On a recent Sunday she took them to Spare Time bowling alley in Northampton. She sat just out of earshot of the pair and chatted with a friend while they bowled with another couple.

Rice fondly remembers the day Holden’s elementary school teacher called her and said there was a new girl in the class. “They seem to be getting along really well,” she recalls the teacher saying.

Not long after, Martin came to Holden’s home. “It was an eight-hour play date and that was the longest play date Cade ever had,” Rice says. “They have been side by side ever since.”

One day when the two were in high school, Rice took them along while she and a friend ran errands. She left them in the car alone together. When the adults returned, they found Holden and Martin kissing.

“We were happy for them, very happy for them,” Rice says. 

“In their minds there is no one else in the world,” says Holden’s father, Tom Holden. ” They have found their mate and that is it.”

Popping the question

Rice says as time went on, her son began telling her, ‘Danielle and I are going to get engaged.’  “Then one day, he asked ‘What does engaged mean?’ ” 

Rice explained, and also told him that, as high school students, they were young for marriage.

Three years later, last July, Holden got down on one knee at Martin’s birthday party and proposed. Then, again, a few days later, he proposed at his birthday party.

“It felt good,” Martin says, “but it was a little weird because everyone was starring at me.”

Holden had spent a whole year saving up for the sapphire ring he gave her, says Rice, working part-time at a farm where he helped take care of the animals.

The couple hasn’t set a wedding date yet, she says, first they want to get jobs.

Since graduating from high school, Holden has been in a culinary program at Holyoke Community College. Martin is sending out job applications, hoping to work in an office, since she is good with computers. 

When the time is right, Rice says, she will help them settle into an apartment. Instead of children, they want to have dogs and cats. 

“They settled on fur children,” she says.

For now, Martin regularly spends the weekend at Holden’s house and Rice gives them privacy.

“They don’t know what it’s like to be lonely. They don’t know what it is like to not have a good friend and they are equal,” she says. “Cade has always had someone to be with him and Danielle, too, and that is not usually the case for people with disabilities.

“It’s what everyone wants for their adult child — to be happy in their relationship and just in general.”

Lisa Spear can be reached at

How to connect

Whole Children is an organization that was founded in 2004 by a group of parents who wanted to fill the gap in enrichment and social programming for their children with developmental disabilities. Classes and activities include typical kids, to broaden social circles. The center, with classroom and community rooms, is housed in a strip mall on Route 9 in Hadley. Milestones, a program which shares the space, offers activities and classes for adults with special needs. 

 Throughout the school year and summer months Whole Children offers enrichment programs after school and on Saturdays.

Each class session is about eight weeks and offered seasonally. There is a playgroup and regular events, like potlucks and dances. There are visual art classes, where students learn drawing, painting, printmaking and fiber arts. There are also opportunities in the performing arts, like theater and chorus. Some classes focus on social skills. Most are targeted to children ages 3 to 17. 

There are fees to participate in the classes; some children receive funding from the Department of Developmental Services to cover the cost.

Whole Children and Milestones are located at the Inclusive Community Center at 41 Russell St., Hadley.

Officer hours are Monday through Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For a full listing of programs and activities for both, visit or call 585-8010.

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