Texan youngster Vincent Arambula has a special affinity with Iron Man. You see, the character provided him with a way to break out of a dark place that he’d found himself in. And when he got the call to appear on TV’s The Ellen DeGeneres Show, something unexpected, yet very special happened.
Now, the boy in question lives in Cibolo, a small city near San Antonio, Texas. And he’s had his struggles since he’s autistic, but that doesn’t prevent him from attending a regular middle school, where he’s in the fifth grade. Loving parents Nicole and Andy and sister Elise make up his family.
However, when he was still an infant Vincent’s mom and dad noticed something was up with him. Yes, while only a year old, he stopped verbalizing and started to show other changes in behavior. So Nicole and Andy talked over what they’d observed with family members, and this led to them having Vincent examined.
And once Vincent hit the age of four, he’d received a diagnosis of autism. Worryingly, he still wasn’t talking and had not yet gotten out of diapers. In fact, it took a lot of work to help him improve, using therapy to work on his speech and behavior. Despite this, little improvement was audible to his parents.
So for several years, Vincent wasn’t able to have any real communication with his parents. And this was a painful passage for Andy and Nicole too, who very much wanted to hear from him. Furthermore, it was pretty obvious that the youngster himself wasn’t finding remaining silent that enjoyable.
But things did start to improve for Vincent when he reached six-years-old. You see, it was then that he came across Marvel, and in particular Iron Man. Interestingly, something about the superhero spoke to Vincent, and he responded strongly to the robotic warrior. In fact, it sparked the youngster’s imagination, and he even became a little more interested in socializing.
Now, the change in Vincent had begun when he found a replica mask of Iron Man at his neighbors’ home. When he tried it on, it was like someone had flicked a switch – the difference was instantly noticeable. So Andy didn’t hang around – he went and bought Vincent his own helmet.
And it proved an invaluable purchase because Vincent had found something that he connected with. Yes, and when Andy appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show he said that Vincent had shown a remarkable difference. Furthermore, the dad was quite specific about what had changed. He said, “The mask grounded him and allowed him to feel confident.”
Andy went on to explain, “Within 24 hours of me ordering the helmet and us watching the movie, we had a different child in our house.” And the variation in Vincent’s behavior took different forms, in particular when he played. Then it became clear that his imagination had been freed.
Touchingly, Vincent himself was able to talk about how things had changed for him on Ellen. He said that it had been painful not to be able to express his feelings. But once he put the Iron Man helmet on, he said, “It helped me talk and imagination play.” Interestingly, it seemed that once he didn’t have to show his face, he could at last speak.
What’s more, father Andy described the change in Vincent to Guadalupe County, Texas, newspaper the Seguin Gazette. He said, “He started flying around the house, using his hands as repulsor blasters and kind of acting like Iron Man.” The outcome of that was astonishing. He added, “I was like, ‘Wow, this is the key that has unlocked my son.’”
Once that key had been turned, more progress soon followed. Yes, Vincent discovered a measure of independence. Not only that, but he began to engage with the kids around him. Indeed, he discovered that he had things in common with them – not least Iron Man. Now he wasn’t just communicating; he was ready to talk about the Marvel hero with anyone.
Now at last Vincent was getting into all the kinds of activities that dad Andy had always imagined that he would. Andy told the Seguin Gazette, “He was kind of out and really trying to make up for all the lost time he had not making friends and not being able to talk.”
In fact, Iron Man fever took over the Arambula household. You see, it wasn’t enough for the family that their boy was scooting around in his Marvel costume. Nope, even their much-adored pet joined in with the craze. Humorously, the woofer goes by the name of Mr. Stark – Iron Man’s real name in the comic books and movies – and rocks a collar that features the character.
Furthermore, when Vincent celebrated his ninth birthday his mom decided to arrange something special. So she hit up a local Audi dealership and asked if it could lay on a ride for Vincent in an Audi R8. You see, this isn’t just any car, it’s the conveyance of choice for Tony Stark. And the dealership sales manager came back with a positive suggestion.
Yes, the dealership didn’t just arrange with some R8 driver to take Vincent along in their car. It also threw a party, featuring cake and a food truck. On top of that, there were gifts in the form of signed comics and concert tickets, and a local theater gave an authentic poster for the latest Avengers movie.
As you’d expect, mom Nicole was over the moon about her son’s party, which had begun at a whole other car showroom. She told lifestyle website UNILAD, “The party itself was pretty cool! It started out with my husband Andy, our daughter Elise, myself and Vince up at Ferrari of San Antonio.”
Vincent’s mother continued to UNILAD, “Vince toured the showroom and got to look at all of the cars and take pictures. He then rode in a Ferrari Testarossa with a local Ferrari owner down to Audi.” And once he had arrived at the Audi dealership, the party could really begin. She added, “We were greeted by all of our guests there.”
As Nicole went on to explain, “Vincent then opened presents and we sang Happy Birthday to him. They had Marvel cupcakes for him and a hamburger food truck for all the guests and dealership employees. Their service manager then took Vince out for a ride in his R8. Everyone really enjoyed the party!”
Touchingly, Vincent loved everything that had been laid on for him. His mom told UNILAD, “Vince’s reaction to his party was pretty cool. He was just so excited about it and loves his friends over at Cavender Audi. We have stayed in touch with them. He was very grateful for all their generosity.”
Now, Vincent’s parents wanted to share the extraordinary difference that Iron Man had made to their son’s life. Because they believed that his story might be inspirational for other parents of autistic kids who were going through a tough time. So they contacted The Ellen DeGeneres Show with the aim of getting their tale to the broader public.
But The Ellen DeGeneres Show was able to go one better than that. When Vincent was invited on, it happened that Ellen was not available to host the show. And it turned out that the guest host was someone very special to Vincent: Iron Man himself. Yes, the actor Robert Downey Jr. would be giving the youngster a very special interview.
On the show, Vincent, Nicole and Andy are awaiting the entrance of Downey Jr. The actor strides in, with a big beaming smile and begins proceedings by saying warmly, “I have been so looking forward to meeting you.” Interestingly, Nicole wastes no time in getting her voice heard.
Yes, Vincent’s mom asks Downey Jr. if she might interrupt, before sharing her own heartfelt message. She says, “I just need to take this opportunity to just – I can’t believe we’re meeting you. And you get to hear our story. And just really, we’re so excited. I never thought we’d ever be in a position like this sitting across from Robert Downey, Jr. Can you believe it?”
Well, it turned out that Nicole was not alone in her excitement at being on the show in such unique circumstances. You see, Downey Jr. adds, “Well, I honestly when I heard that we were going to meet, I was like, oh, my God. It’s like – and my friends are on the show, and it’s fun to do the show. But this really grabbed me.”
After that opening, Downey Jr. gets down to business. And he starts to talk to Vincent and his family about his condition and how it has affected him. Father Andy notes that Vincent would get trapped in repetitive behavior. He says, “He would just line stuff up. He would just spin things for countless hours.”
Given the red flags that the parents had noticed, Nicole describes how the family had consulted relatives. And it turns out that Nicole has a nephew who is also autistic. So following stern advice from a sister-in-law, Nicole opted to get Vincent tested – with the results confirming that he was indeed on the autistic spectrum.
Touchingly, Downey Jr. empathizes with Vincent on that point. And he says to the youngster, “Everybody here can relate to that sense of wanting to communicate and not being able to.” Then, he poses a couple of poignant questions for Vincent. He asks, “What did that feel like? What was your experience of that?”
Vincent seems downcast as he replies, “It was painful.” He doesn’t seem to have anything more to say, and Andy takes up the baton. He tells Downey Jr., “It was really painful for him. Now that he has a voice, I go back and I ask him, hey, tell me about what you were thinking that day, or tell me about this time.”
When father Andy explains what Vincent had to say about his years of being unable to communicate, he has a sorry tale to tell. He continues, “And some of the things he talks about is not being able to make friends back then – [not] having the ability to tell us what’s going on in his life.”
Next, Downey Jr. alludes to the moment that everything began to change for Vincent. And the youngster tells him about getting the Iron Man helmet and how it allowed him to express his imagination. Now, Downey Jr. is obviously impressed by this. Because when Andy tells him that within a day Vincent was like “a different child,” the actor is close to speechless. In fact, his only word was “Wow.”
What’s more, on the screen that forms the backdrop to the show, a picture of Vincent in his Iron Man mask is displayed. And Downey Jr. points at it saying, “Look at him!,” to the joy of the Arambula family, who are sharing in his amazement. “So that was night one,” The Avengers star adds.
Then Downey Jr. shows that he understands Vincent, as he makes a moving statement about the Iron Man helmet. He says, “And see, for me, too, it’s so wild in playing this character. There’s something, I think, for all of us when you’re able to wear a mask, whether you’re doing theater in school or Halloween or whatever. I had a particular affinity – you and I both did – with this same mask for some reason. And it gave us a voice.”
When Downey Jr. asks Vincent how he thinks the mask helped, the boy’s answer is simple. He says, “It helped me talk. It helped me hide my identity from the world.” Then the A-lister looks again at the backdrop screen. And now it is showing the pair of them clothed alike and in identical poses. “Oh my god, you’re a ringer!,” the guest presenter laughs.
And Downey Jr. can’t stop laughing at how similar the two of them look. “This is absolutely bananas,” he says. So he gets Vincent to give him a high five, and the boy cannot stop grinning and laughing. Then the actor asks the family about their pet, Mr. Stark, and the audience starts to reel with laughter.
As the interview draws to a close, the emotion bubbles over. Yes, Nicole speaks from the heart as she tells Downey Jr., “We love you. We love Iron Man. We love Marvel.” And not to be outdone, Downey Jr. has a similar message for the Arambula family too. He says, “Aw, I love you too.”
Furthermore, the A-lister delivers a sentiment straight from the heart. He says, “People always say what will you miss most about having played this part? And it honestly is being able to talk to moms and dads and young folks and see how somehow or other this had a positive impact on you. And it just makes all these last years of working on it worthwhile.”
To top off what had been an exhilarating night for Vincent and his parents, Downey Jr. had one last big surprise. Acknowledging that therapy for autistic children can be an expensive business, he revealed that someone had wanted to help them out. And in seconds the family were handed a large check for $20,000, courtesy of greeting cards company Shutterfly.
After the episode had broadcast in January 2020, Vincent shared that children from his class had seen him on it. Meanwhile, parents of other autistic children from all around the world had gotten in touch with his mom and dad. Yes, Andy told the Seguin Gazette that they now had hope that there would be a key to unlock their children too.
What’s more, Vincent summed up his feelings about the show to the Seguin Gazette. He said, “I finally met my life’s dream. It’s come true, forever. It changed my life.” And looking back on the day that he discovered the Marvel superhero, the youngster added, “He meant my life. I was just a lonely kid in a shell before Iron Man.”