There may be no Tony Stark or Iron Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe anymore, but it doesn’t mean actor Robert Downey Jr is any less popular. An interaction between the actor and an autistic boy, whose parents say the superhero ‘saved’ their son, is now going viral on social media.
Vincent Arambula, who is autistic, lost the ability to speak when he was around 12-months-old and despite his parents’ attempts nothing helped. But when he was six-years-old, Arambula was presented with a red-and-gold Iron Man mask, and soon began communicating verbally again.
The boy and his family met with Downey Jr on The Ellen Show and Arambula, who is now 10-years-old, explained that the mask “helped me talk and imagination play.”
“So, it’s almost like the mask provided a sense of, it grounded him and allowed him to feel confident. And within 24 hours, Robert, we saw a different child,” said the boy’s emotional father.
“See, for me too, it’s so wild in playing this character,” the actor said. “There’s something—I think for all of us—where 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. It gave us a voice.”
“Why do you think it helped?” Downey Jr asked the boy. “It helped me talk,” Arambula answered. “It helped me hide my identity from the world.”
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The actor was also shown photos of the boy dressed up as Iron Man and imitating Downey Jr’s appearances on-screen.
“People always say, ‘What will you miss most about having played this part?'” said Downey Jr. “And it honestly is being able to talk to moms and dads and young folks and see how, somehow or other, this thing had a positive impact on you. And it makes just all these last years of working on it worthwhile. I cannot thank you enough.”
After the interaction, Downey Jr presented the family with a cheque for $20,000 from Shutterfly.
The video went viral on social media with parents of other autistic children sharing stories about how introducing their children to superheroes had helped. Some thanked the actor for inspiring and helping others.
Here’s how people reacted to the meeting between the actor and the boy: