When Andy Gardiner was sworn in as president of the Florida Senate two years ago, he had a message for his son from the podium:
"There isn't a day that goes by when I don't think about what we can do in this Legislature to help you and others," an emotional Gardiner said that day. "I love you son, and I'm so proud that you're my son."
Gardiner and wife Camille's oldest child, Andrew, has Down syndrome.
Making life easier for families of children with special needs is a hallmark of his term.
Last week, Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill that will give students with intellectual disabilities a greater chance at college and access to grade school scholarships that would cover private school or home school-related expenses.
"People say disabilities ... we say unique abilities," the Republican senator from Orlando says.
Hence the name for the state clearinghouse for college programs created by the legislation: Florida Center for Students with Unique Abilities at the University of Central Florida.
"What you find is that the child comes out of high school and they just don't have an option at that point," Gardiner explained. "We wanted to create something that gives them options."
To parents of children with special needs, the importance of options can't be overstated.
Gardiner recalled the overwhelming feeling that washed over him in the hospital 12 years ago.
The Gardiners didn't know of Andrew's diagnosis until shortly after he was born.
"Your first thought is now what?" he said. "I want the next parent, when they go through that, they can be handed like a deck of cards ... here are 50 options for your kid. It's going to be OK."
For the Gardiners it has been more than OK.
Andrew recovered from open heart surgery as an infant.
Today he is home-schooled along with the Gardiner's two daughters and reads at age level. Gardiner said his son likes to ride his bike and is an Orlando Magic fanatic.
"He's one of thousands of kids around the state who just want a chance," he said.
The new law increases the scholarships fund to $73 million from $55 million for grade school students with disabilities to attend private schools, receive tutoring, therapy or for other expenses such as curriculum and materials to home school. The scholarship is not available for public school students.
The House and the Senate surprised Gardiner by naming the scholarships for his family. He tried to reject the amendment to change the name of the program to the "Gardiner Scholarship," but ultimately accepted.
UCF is a beneficiary, too, getting $8 million to start the center for students with "unique abilities," including $3 million in seed money for other colleges and universities to start programs for students with special needs.
Another $3.5 million of that $8 million total will go to scholarships for students to attend those programs.
UCF is already testing a program for students with special needs. This semester the program added four new students, bringing the total to 10. And there are programs across the state such as one at the University of North Florida.
Gardiner hopes there will soon be more.
The scholarships are just part of the reforms Gardiner has helped push for special needs students.
A few years ago the Legislature eliminated the state's special high school diploma, which was essentially worthless when it came to helping a student move on to higher education or a job.
And now parents of children with special education plans in school are required to sign off that they agree with the plan.
Gardiner acknowledges he's an old-school compassionate conservative, the kind that came to power under Jeb Bush when the GOP was known for more than bitter, angry messages now dominating the Republican presidential primary.
"Sadly, that has been lost in some of the rhetoric you hear now," he said.
Gardiner doesn't try to take credit as the leading advocate for these changes.
He noted that he just happens to be in a position with enough power to "occasionally get things done."
"If I've done anything, I hope I at least raise the awareness of things other people have been doing for years," he said. "There are families who have been advocating for years."
And he's a father who kept his word to his son.