When my son, Korey, was born 19 years ago, I knew very little about parenting a child, let alone a child with special needs. What I did know, and learned very quickly, was that I loved Korey with all of my heart – the same way all parents love their children.

I enjoyed being a new mom, although the expected early milestones – talking, sitting up and walking – were delayed and required early intervention. It was soon apparent to me that this journey would be different than I expected.

Instead of the play dates I had envisioned, we had evaluations and doctor’s appointments. Rather than close “mommy” friends and birthday party invitations, we had specialists, therapists and mentors. We did not move on to new grades each fall, we attended new programs, schools and placements.

While all children can experience difficulties with transitions, Korey met changes in his daily activities with disruptive behaviors, anxiety, meltdowns and many unknowns.

I learned that it would take a village to help raise Korey to reach his potential. My village included doctors, specialists, special education teams, the local YMCA, the town recreation department, Best Buddies, my amazing parents, friends, family and, eventually, The Guild for Human Services.

Korey is a sports enthusiast and wanted to play Little League like so many others his age. Thanks to the support of his teammates, coaches and parents on both teams, I will never forget the pride he felt on the day he was the starting pitcher in a game. He threw only about 10 pitches, but what an impact it made.

When Korey is “on,” he has an engaging personality that draws in people. Wherever Korey goes, people know him. He has “friends” at many restaurants. Cashiers greet him by name. He receives smiles from strangers when he greets them by saying, “Here, let me hold this door for you” or “Have a wonderful day.” He even briefly had the opportunity to steer a cruise ship filled with thousands of people because he had befriended the captain.

Reading and writing are not Korey’s strengths. However, he loves reading about sports and sending letters to his favorite teams and musical artists. Due to his perseverance, his letters have led to a signed Tom Brady Super Bowl football; taking batting practice and sliding into every base at Fenway Park; and, most recently, being shown on the giant screen at a Red Sox game and receiving player autographs. These are great confidence boosters and teach Korey that anything is possible.

The Guild has been instrumental in his development, providing an environment where he can learn how to become the best person he can be. Together, we learn how to bring out his strengths, correct his challenging behaviors, encourage growth in areas he may not think are possible, and provide new opportunities for Korey to reach his potential and live the best quality of life he can.

Parenting a child with special needs has brought out a strength I never knew I had. It is at once the most challenging and rewarding experience a parent can go through. I can honestly say I am a better person because of Korey. Along the way, I have learned to look at the world differently and put into perspective the everyday happenings that most people take for granted. I have learned to appreciate simple things: successfully taking Korey to a family event or enjoying a quiet evening together at home.

You can very easily get caught up with all of the negatives and challenges along the way, but trying to see the bright side has certainly helped me. Korey has taught me so much about priorities and perspective. My motto is: “Once you learn to appreciate small victories, there is no need for a finish line.”

Caryn Budd’s son, Korey, is a student at The Guild School.