ORLANDO, Fla. – What’s better than a night out at your favorite restaurant? Eating at your favorite restaurant for a good cause.
During Visit Orlando’s Magical Dining Month, proceeds benefit the Down Syndrome Association of Central Florida, which gives families scholarships to pay for medical needs not covered by insurance.
News 6 morning anchor Kirstin O’Connor got to meet one of the families that has benefited from the organization’s assistance.
At 20 months old, Paige McMillen said her son, Tristan, is a busy toddler, which she expects at his age. But like any first-time mom encounters, McMillen said she’s run into some surprises along the way.
While she was pregnant, doctors gave Tristan eight different diagnoses, and eventually said there was a 50 percent chance he would be born with Down syndrome.
In his young life, McMillen said Tristan has been no stranger to the camera. He’s always dressed up -- tiny bowtie and all -- is social, loves giving hugs and enjoys making people happy.
"He's a big joker, he loves to make you laugh and smile like that is his favorite thing,” McMillen said. “He just loves being around people.”
McMillen said once her family received the diagnosis, they had to make moves quickly.
"We didn't have a whole lot of preparation for it. So we really got the diagnosis 10 days after he was born, and so that was the point of finality for us, like this is our new life,” McMillen said. “We have to grieve the life that we imagined for ourselves as a family of three, and the life we imagined for him, because you are letting go of something, but we were gaining something so much better. We had no idea what we were getting."
The family immediately got involved with the Down Syndrome Association of Central Florida, where they found therapy, activity and financial resources, all of which have helped Tristan with skills as simple as communicating.
With the help of the association, McMillen said Tristan has learned how to use sign language.
“So the expressive language comes a little later, so we found that signing helps him communicate, and people with Down syndrome are often very visual too, so signing is huge for them," she said.
McMillen said it’s how Tristan communicates his basic needs.
"You're able to say food, and you're able to say please, and thank you, thank you," McMillen said.
McMillen said she’s proud to be a part of the organization, and is thankful for the comfort and assistance it’s been able to give her family, as well as many others. She encouraged Orlando-area residents to take advantage of the deal this month, knowing the impact their giving can have on families just like hers.
"It's not just giving to an organization without a face, like we are making such a difference for each family, and we're connecting each other," McMillen said.
Visit Orlando’s Magical Dining Month runs through Sept. 30 and will also donate to Best Buddies, an organization committed to helping people with developmental disabilities.
Click here to see the restaurants included in the Magical Dining Month deals.