A DeLand boy was chosen to serve this year as a global ambassador for Nothing Down, an organization working to change the way Down syndrome is viewed.

DELAND — Rocco DeRobertis is a lot like other toddlers his age.


He loves Elmo from “Sesame Street,” singing and dancing along to music and playing with his toys.


But this year, 2 1/2-year-old Rocco has a responsibility that most children his age don’t have — he’s one of 29 people from around the globe who will serve as ambassadors this year for Nothing Down, an organization working to change how the world looks at Down syndrome.


“I about went through the roof I was so excited,” said Rocco’s mother, Kristina DeRobertis.


Related: Florida artist without use of hands, arms paints with mouth


Nothing Down, based out of New Jersey, received more than 500 applications in January that came from 11 countries, according to a press release from the organization. This year’s ambassadors, who were notified of their yearlong appointment at the end of February, hail from several states in the U.S. as well as England, Canada and Scotland. The youngest ambassador is 9 months old, and the oldest is 30.


Shannon Daughtry, co-founder of Nothing Down, said one of the first things that stood out with Rocco was his smile.


“But most importantly, Rocco's application displayed his family's dedication to the mission of Nothing Down, and it was very clear that they shared our passion for advocacy,” Daughtry said. “The DeRobertis family is very committed to showing the world the value and potential of individuals with Down syndrome, and we're so happy to have them join our team.”


The first order of business for Rocco is to celebrate World Down Syndrome Day, March 21, by wearing funky socks. Since the event falls on a Saturday, Rocco’s school, Emmaus Lutheran Preschool in Orange City, will participate that Friday.


Through Nothing Down ambassadors will advocate for people with Down syndrome during special events, via social media and by participating in fundraising efforts.


DeRobertis hopes working with the organization will mean an opportunity to “change people’s views on what it is to be different or unique.”


“It’s nice that people can see him and see how great he’s doing and hopefully not be scared to have a child with Down syndrome,” DeRobertis said.


The DeLand woman was 18 weeks pregnant when she and her husband, also named Rocco, learned that their first child would have some sort of delays due to an extra chromosome.


Related: Florida Batman impersonator surprises bullied toddler


While her husband handled the news pretty well, the mom-to-be did not.


“I cried for months,” DeRobertis said. “It’s a load to take on as a parent, because you don’t want to hear anything is wrong with your kid.”


Whatever worries she had went away when Rocco was born.


“He's gonna do something great, and he's always going to be happy,” DeRobertis said. “And I feel like I'm ready to help him achieve whatever that may be.”


The boy’s aunt, Kathy Jacobs, who works at Rocco’s preschool, said the milestones that her nephew meets feel like a bigger deal.


“You take the little things for granted that children do,” Jacobs said.


Rocco is the first child at Emmaus Lutheran Preschool, which has been open since 2007, to have Down syndrome.


“I’m kind of partial to him, I’m not going to lie,” Joann Seijas, the preschool’s director, said with a laugh.


Seijas echoed Jacobs’ sentiments, saying how exciting it is to see Rocco demonstrating what he’s learned.


“He’s moving right along with everybody else,” Seijas said. “The only thing that holds him back a little is his speech.”


This story originally published to news-journalonline.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the USA TODAY Network - Florida.