TAMPA (FOX 13) - It's tough for 5-year-old Jonathan to be a part of the world around him. He was about two when his parents found out he had autism.
"He wasn't saying any words, not even ‘momma or dada’," his dad, Darrell, said.
There were other signs too. He'd throw extreme tantrums; his arms would flail; he didn't seem to be interested in playing with other kids. He was just sort of... in his own world.
But his parents got on it immediately.
Autism can be a vague, confusing and sometimes scary diagnosis. As a parent, it’s hard to know the best way to help your kids.
Darrell said in Jonathan's case, early intervention was key.
"It just seemed overwhelming," he said. "We didn't know where to start to get help, but it all kind of fell into place."
He talked about the fear that set in at first. And then they started learning everything they could and found support groups.
"We did everything we could- occupational therapy, speech therapy…"
And what most experts agree is the most effective with kids like Jonathan, is behavioral therapy.
Kelley Prince is a behavioral therapist who owns BCOTB- a place where they teach autistic kids how to see the world around them and be a part of it. If you can teach them a different way to behave, it makes all a big difference.
"He used to flop and flail. Now you'll see he's compliant and follows direction," she said, "We're working on everything from requesting things, using sign language, labeling things, selecting things, imitating the actions of peers…"
And it's working.
"He seems to be happier," Darrell explained, "less tantrums."
These days it's not so much fear that rules, but resolve.
"I feel more at ease, more comforted-- so many services and people out there that care for him."
And best of all, he found a way to help his son notice there's a world around him waiting to be explored.
Jonathan doesn't know it yet, but he's getting closer every day, thanks to his parents and early intervention.
"My wife and I pray for him every day," he said, "We want the best for him. We love him very much, but we don't know what the future holds. We have to just take it step-by-step, the best we can."