METROPOLIS, IL — The 63rd Lions Club/WPSD Telethon of Stars is quickly approaching. We're counting down the days by introducing you to some of the people benefiting from your telethon donations.
Xander Smith is one of them. The 4-year-old is a patient at TLC of Southern Illinois. He's proof that a little therapy can go a long way, and lots of therapy can change a life.
Xander has Down syndrome, and was living in foster care when Amanda Smith met him.
"He was 2-years-old, very delayed, no therapies at that time," says Amanda. "I met Xander, and fell in love with him at first sight. I knew right off the bat when I saw him that God put him in my path."
It's not often you hear of a single mother adopting a child with special needs. But that's what Amanda did. Xander officially became part of the family in June of 2018.
"I don't know how to explain it," says Amanda. "He came to me, went to 10 hours of therapy, and he's been striving ever since."
Tommye Robb is the director at TLC of Southern Illinois, one of three local centers helping children with special needs.
"For years I've seen Xander," says Robb. "I know with the right amount of stimulation, I know where they're going to be. Xander's going to talk. He really is."
Before therapy, Xander could barely sit up. Now, he's going down slides and climbing back up them.
Robb says at this rate, Xander will soon be riding his new tricycle on his own.
"You know, a bike like that, you just look at it and go, 'Eh it's a tricycle.' That sucker cost $750," says Robb. "That adaptive equipment is not cheap."
But the equipment is needed, so TLC made it happen.
To Xander, the tricycle is a toy — freedom on three wheels. To Robb, it's a tool to teach balance and coordination.
Robb says if Xander weren't in therapy and didn't have access to adaptive equipment, he wouldn't be where he is at today in his development.
"He would be where he was when he was 2-years-old," says Robb "He'd be sucking on a bottle, sitting in the middle of the floor, probably gazing off — or what happens in these days is watching a TV. That's exactly where he'd be if it weren't for that mother."
Xander may be nonverbal, but his mother knows when he's trying to communicate.
"If you are around him and you hear the sounds, you know what he wants," says Amanda. "Earlier, as you saw, he was getting fussy. He was hot. He wanted a drink. So we got him a cup, and he stopped making his growling sound."
Xander is getting ready to turn 5. He's come a long way since foster care.
"For his future, I just hope that he catches up with his peers," says Amanda. "My ultimate goal is to strive to make him get all of his goals met. And to talk, and run, and jump and ride a bicycle."
Robb says TLC paid for Xander's tricycle using past telethon dollars. She says he's not the first to ride it, and once he grows out of it, it'll go to help out another little boy or girl living in the Local 6 area.
"You know, Xander's going to talk," says Robb. "He's obviously in a year walking and running. That's a big step, and that's because there's been therapy there to help him. There will be therapy for his speech, but we're counting on the telethon to raise that money that he needs."
The 63rd Lions Club/WPSD Telethon of Stars airs at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 14. The concert, featuring local talent at Paducah's Carson Center, is free to attend. Click here to learn more details and to donate.