A Florida mother who took her 13-year-old daughter to see their neighbor’s Christmas lights had no idea that the festive display would have such a large impact on the teenager, who has autism.
Since Kaitlyn De Jesus was diagnosed with autism at 3 years old, she hasn’t spoken more than two words, her mother Marisabel Figueroa told Today.
That all changed on Saturday when Figueroa took her daughter to their neighbor Don Weaver’s driveway — a visit they’ve made daily — to see the elaborate Christmas light display he has set up on his front lawn since 2007.
“She got up from the chair and started singing,” Figueroa recalled to the outlet. “She said, ‘Mom! Look at the blue lights. Look at the snowmen. Santa’s coming!’ I started crying. I couldn’t believe it.”
The incredible moment was something Figueroa had waited 10 years to witness after learning of her daughter’s diagnosis when she was a toddler.
“The neurologist who saw Kaitlyn said she was going to be non-verbal for all of her life,” Figueroa, a single mom who lives in Mulberry and works as a manager at a local McDonald’s, explained to Today. “I refused to accept that.”
Over the years, Figueroa said Kaitlyn would speak with visual prompts, but remained primarily nonverbal — even when the mother-daughter duo would make daily trips to Weaver’s driveway to see the musical, 200,000-light display.
“Our usual routine is to go after 6 when it gets dark,” Figueroa told the outlet. “Mr. Weaver puts down a special chair just for Kaitlyn and she sits there dancing and tapping her feet.”
But this weekend, Figueroa, as well as Weaver and the rest of their neighbors, were in for a true Christmas miracle when Kaitlyn began to verbally express her excitement over the festive lights.
“It was the first time she ever talked,” Weaver told Today in disbelief.
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“This woman came over to me and goes, ‘I’ve never heard Kaitlyn speak,'” Figueroa added. “I was like, ‘Well, I’m her mom and I’ve never heard her speak unprompted like that.'”
Though she said her daughter is “a bit isolated and quiet,” Figueroa explained that their neighbor’s holiday decorations bring out a completely different side of the teen.
“At Mr. Weaver’s house, she comes to life. She’s like this whole new entity,” Figueroa revealed. “If only Christmas could be around all year.”
“I’m still crying about it,” the proud mom added.