SAN CARLOS PARK, Fla. — When she moved eight years ago, Eliana Tardío was so pregnant, she doubted the airline crew would allow her on the plane from South America to join family in Southwest Florida.
Weeks later, baby Emir was born in Lee County.
In theory, Tardío knew what was coming. The doctors in Bolivia told her the same day she learned she was expecting a boy.
"Before ... the worst thing ever was to have a child with Down syndrome because in my mind, my child wasn't going to be able to do anything, that everyone was going to laugh at him, that he would never learn, that they would institutionalize him, things like that that are supremely ignorant," said blogger Tardío, who Latino news website Voxxi recently named one of the most powerful Latinas in social media. "I just didn't know."
She stumbled through Emir's first years, putting him in a special needs class. He was "low-functioning," specialists said.
"What that did to my son was make him introverted, totally timid. He was scared of other children because he was closed off in a world that wasn't real, with six other kids with Down Syndrome," said Tardio, now 34.
But the problem wasn't Emir's condition, she realized. It was her.
"My own limitations limited him."
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As family lore goes, before his younger sister was born, Emir already had a nickname for her.
The day she arrived five years ago, he went up to her as she laid in the hospital.
"Hi, Yaya!" he told her.
And the infant girl, as their mother remembers, lifted her head in acknowledgement.
Tardío wanted a sibling for her son. She also didn't want people to think she was scared to have a second child.
There was no prenatal testing done to check for Down syndrome as she had with Emir. Tardío felt confident she could handle whatever hand she was dealt.
Plus, doctors said her second child had only a 5 percent chance of having the same condition.
When Ayelén came into the world, the nurse told Tardío she was OK.
Fast factsLatino news website Voxxi recently named Eliana Tardío one of the most powerful Latinas in social media.
"She has Down syndrome, but she's good," Tardío recalled her saying.
This time around, she knows what to do, what to ask.
"God doesn't make mistakes," she said of Emir and Ayelén. "They are perfect for each other."
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Like many young parents, Eliana Tardío has filmed, photographed and blogged her children's early years.
What started as a labor of love and a way to reach out to other parents is now a career, an invitation to the White House, two books, a private online network for the parents of special needs children, and several bilingual blogs.
Her articles and videos focus on the practical, educational and bicultural, with Ayelén and Emir in starring roles.With a million views of the San Carlos Park family's YouTube videos, the children are accustomed to their mom trailing them with a camera.
"When they go to bed at 8 every night, that's my time to think, 'OK, what did I do today? What did we achieve that will help other people?' It's a way of seeing that simple things make a difference in your children's lives," Tardío said.
A 7-minute clip on the family's YouTube channel features Tardío explaining to parents in Spanish how to encourage multiple language use at home and stimulate communication skills. The children are featured doing tasks around the house — helping out in the kitchen or with laundry — as part of learning about counting, colors, or measurements in another language.
Their lives wouldn't stand out — bus rides, swim lessons, iPad games, house chores — if it weren't for the online presence they have cultivated, and the lessons could apply to bilingual families in general, not just the ones with special needs.
Fast factsFrom a background in public relations in Bolivia, moving to the U.S., where people had a hard time understanding her English and her advanced degrees carried little weight, Tardío had to re-establish herself.
"That's what has also helped this become a movement, that people even without special needs kids enjoy reading the articles, seeing everything, because it's not focusing on suffering or lamenting or what can't be done," Tardío said.
In addition to her personal blog, Walt Disney Company's parenting website Babble.com hired Tardío as a bilingual blogger this summer. Writing primarily in Spanish is an attempt to de-stigmatize special needs in the Hispanic community, she said.
From a background in public relations in Bolivia, moving to the U.S., where people had a hard time understanding her English and her advanced degrees carried little weight, Tardío had to re-establish herself.
"I came to this country knowing nothing about the laws or the education system ... I would go to the parent-teachers meetings and just say yes, because I didn't know how things functioned," Tardío said.
Ayelén, 5, is a now a kindergartner at the same Estero public elementary school where Emir, now 8, started first grade this school year. Tardío describes her children in storybook terms.
Emir is noble, she says. Quiet. An athlete who finds peace swinging in his backyard.
Ayelén is the "rebellious princess," prone to striking a pose with one hand on her hip, or going into a meltdown when the family's small dog wriggles out of her grasp.
While they are at school, Tardío works part-time as a family resource specialist for the Health Planning Council of Southwest Florida, and as an educational outreach liaison for Healthy Start Southwest Florida, pushing for the inclusion of special needs children in regular classrooms.
"In the beginning, you want to protect them from the world. You don't want anyone to say anything to them, anyone to hurt them. And you limit them in a way ... because you're scared. You still don't know their abilities," Tardío said. "As you evolve, you think, 'what am I doing?' The best I can do is open the world up for the kids and educate people."