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    Posted July 18, 2014 by
    Potomac, Maryland
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Raising a special needs child

    A lifelong journey


    CNN PRODUCER NOTE     Vittoria Aiello was informed by doctors that her daughter Federica had Trisomy 21, otherwise known as Down Syndrome, at birth. She knew the odds were high given the results of her prenatal screening, but she still felt overwhelmed hearing her daughter’s diagnosis. “I had no idea what Down Syndrome was about,” she said.

    Aiello and her family live in Potomac, Maryland, where Federica, who is three years old, attends a pre-school program. Aiello says that while raising her daughter she has experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows when it comes to parenting a child with special needs. “I experience the highest highs when my daughter acquires or starts mastering a new skill. It is like conquering the peak of a mountain after a long climbing. When you are up there, you enjoy an extraordinarily beautiful view,” she said. "I experienced a lowest low a few months ago, when she was excluded from a pre-school program because of her condition.”

    She has come up with new ways of defining the meaning of success for her daughter. "Success for me is about achieving your full potential, no matter how big or small that potential is,” she said. “Happiness is not in the great achievements, it is in the small daily accomplishments that make every day meaningful."
    - Jareen, CNN iReport producer

    When I learned about my daughter’s diagnosis of Down Syndrome, like many parents, I felt overwhelmed. Too many questions started flooding my mind: what is the future going to be like? How will this diagnosis change our family’s life? Will my child be able to care for herself when her parents are not around anymore? For a long time, I wished I could “fix” my daughter’s condition. It was a pure fantasy since I perfectly knew there is no cure for her condition. Nevertheless, I kept chasing that fantasy for months to relieve my anxiety and deal with the unknown. Raising a child with special needs is a lifelong learning experience that no class or teacher can prepare you for. It forces you to unveil your most inner fears and learn to deal with them every single day. It urges you to constantly challenge your assumptions and encourage others to do the same. It pushes you to the limits of your creativity to address your child’s challenges. I have learnt to come to terms with my fears and to let love lay the path of this unique journey. I have come up with new hopes and new dreams. I have developed a new, fresh perspective on the meaning of life and the uniqueness of each human being.

    Raising a child with special needs is challenging and rewarding at the same time. Emotionally, I often feel like on a roller coaster: going from the highest peaks of excitement to the lowest dips of discouragement. Helping my daughter meet her milestones is hard at times. It takes time, patience and persistence. But the reward largely exceeds the efforts. The most exciting milestone my daughter has reached so far has been starting to talk. It seemed it would never happen. I cannot describe the joy I felt when I heard her first word. It was like I had been able to enter the Guinness World Book. Nevertheless, I believe that my daughter has taught me much more than I will ever be able to teach her. In today’s fast-paced world, where almost everything happens hand over fist, learning to slow down and be patient is hard. Acquiring this skill has been my greatest challenge. My daughter has helped me along the way teaching me to be patient and persistent. But this is not the only skill she has taught me. She has also taught me to take pride in every single small achievement, to not give anything for granted and to be grateful for everything. She has taught me that every life is precious and unique, and that disabilities cannot limit an individual’s happiness and willingness to chase his own dreams. Indeed, she is a very happy and cheerful kid. She brings smiles and joy to every life she touches. She has brought so many unexpected, invaluable gifts in my life. The only way I can show my gratitude is to offer her my unconditional love and endless support.

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