ORLANDO, Fla. - A 12-year-old boy on the autism spectrum performed a standup comedy routine in front of a roaring crowd at the University of Central Florida.
"So this is a kid who, you know, if you think about it, at 18 months old wasn't talking, wasn't making eye contact, you know, walking with a walker," said Bonnie Waldrop, Caden Waldrop's mother.
Waldrop said she started to notice some delays just after her second son turned 1.
A family pediatrician recommended an evaluation at the Howard Phillips Center for Children and Families.
"Eighty percent of brain development happens in the first three years of life, so we have a great window of opportunity to start making those connections," said Lourdes Quintana, director of the Early Steps program.
Waldrop and her husband said the diagnosis was not as important as the treatment that their son received.
"So she's like, it's on the spectrum, but it's really early, but we can call it that, to get the treatment,'and that's what they did. They treated him. It didn't matter if it was autism or not; they treated him because that's what this child needed," said Waldrop.
Physical, occupational, speech and behavioral therapists visited Waldrop's home to work with Caden in his own space until he turned 3.
"The physical therapist had him. To teach him how to take steps, she'd go around our coffee table and she'd put a Cheerio at one end and he would, you know, he would get over there and then she'd put it at the other end, but it made him walk," said Waldrop.
Step by step, Caden found his independence, and now his own voice on stage.
"What do you get when you cross a snowman with a vampire? Frostbite!" Caden said as he performed onstage at the UCF Knight Thon.
"Having families like this, circling back to us and sharing their successes with us, it's just a clear proof that thanks to that early intervention, we were able to build that foundation that helped him be successful," said Quintana.
"We're super proud of him, because I can't talk in front of people like that," said Waldrop.
Learn more about World Autism Month and take the "Light it Up Blue" quiz at https://www.autismspeaks.org/.
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