Early Steps of SWFL

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The Southwest Florida Early Steps program serves infants and toddlers in Collier, Glades, Hendry, and Lee Counties and is part of the Florida Early Intervention Program. Florida's Early Intervention Program is improving its service delivery system to better support infants and toddlers and their families - in places where they live, learn and play. An enhanced family-focused early intervention system called Early Steps has replaced the former Infants & Toddlers Early Intervention Program with a new Mission, Vision and Values.


By Eliana Tardio
After work, I ran to the doctor’s office. I was all excited about watching my child through the ultrasound. When the doctor covered my tummy with the chilly stuff, I started to cry, the excitement overtook me.
The doctor started going around the baby, showing me his face, his nose, his eyes and suddenly something unexpected came to the screen: a short neck with some other features of Down syndrome.
It was very weird, he didn’t say a word at that moment, but I heard the diagnosis in my mind “Down syndrome.”
I was devastated, asking him: Why? He held my hand and told me that it could be a mistake, but I already knew it for sure that my baby would be born with Down syndrome.

Love Arrives

I tried to ignore my feelings the following three months, but it was impossible to not to think about it, all those faces of other children with Down syndrome that I had seen once in my life, were going around and around my mind.
I was trying to avoid the call of sadness that a mother goes through when she is told her perfect child has a disability, but when Emir was almost ready to be born, I decided to face the possibility and I took the decision that change his life forever: I came to United States, asking God to guide my steps to give him the opportunity to have a good life.
Emir was born on April 29th, 2004. He was born with Down syndrome.
I will never forget the day they placed him in my tummy and through those beautiful blue eyes I got the most amazing teaching of my life: “Real love.”
Becoming a mother has taken me to a new and unknown world.  A world highly limited by doctors, but full of hope from a mother’s eyes.

Second child with Down syndrome

Ayelen came three years after. I was not expecting to have a second child with Down syndrome, and actually I didn’t know it could happen again. I didn’t know she was coming with Down syndrome, actually, I didn’t want to know.. I rejected several times the suggestions from the doctors to find out during my pregnancy, and I kept firm on my decision of giving my son his perfect sister
It has been 4 years now, and every time I go back to that moment I learned she had Down syndrome, I feel one more time the desperation and confusion of that moment. For a couple days I remember living like in a dream, looking around with no reactions and just repeating one time after another “Sorry.” It was supposed to be the most perfect gift to my son and everything went wrong.
But, one day I woke up with sunshine in my eyes and looked around to find a little pink crib, Ayelen was there, sleeping with a beautiful smile painted on her face. That was all that I needed to wake up from my depression and hold my daughter, while promising her to be the best mom ever.

Questions and Answers

It’s very normal for us to get people’s attention wherever we are but I have also learned to choose, and I always take the smiles, and appreciate the nice way people enjoy the contribution of my children in the world. They are here to remind people how easy it is to find happiness in every step and how important it is to enjoy the journey.
People always ask me two questions:
  • Are they twins?
  • How can this happen?
I am getting better and better on responding: Now I can tell from the humbleness of my heart, that they are not twins and that God doesn’t make mistakes.
Sometimes people do associate disability with sadness or disappointment. It’s not easy at the beginning but love is a great feeling that grows along with our children. “Happiness” is a personal choice, and having children with special needs gives me an opportunity to find a mission and reason for life.
Our message is really simple “See First The Child” Our kids with Down syndrome are children first and have different abilities. They grow and become great people for their communities and the only thing we ask for is respect.
Like everybody else, I used to believe that having children with special needs is a permanent giving experience, but after almost seven years, I can say I have gotten more than I ever expected in my life. It could be called the miracle of Love, or just the opportunity of finding out how amazing every soul is, as a perfect creation of God, no matter what is the shape of their eyes. I have learned to love unconditionally, to find prize and happiness at every step, and to evolve as a human being.
Please educate yourself and educate your children about Down syndrome and other different abilities. Disability is natural, and kids with disabilities not only receive from their communities, but they also give valuable lessons of determination and love.
I am grateful for kids for bringing me to a different understanding of compassion and passion for life. Thanks to them, I found out the real meaning of a “challenge,” not only as a hard time, but a great opportunity to demonstrate that “Everything is possible with love.”

Eliana Tardio is a public relations and marketing professional, who is an advocate for people with Down Syndrome. Her advocacy work has been nationally recognized. She runs a popular online support network and blogs on her personal site, Eliana Tardio, and at Blogs de Mamás. Eliana is a native of Bolivia.

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