Surprise Gift to 5-Year-Old Ojai Boy With Autism Prompts Viral Video

A 5-year-old Ojai boy with autism who has a love of garbage trucks was treated to a surprise gift during the regular trash pickup at his home, and a video of the sweet scene has gone viral.

As his mother recorded the boy’s excitement at the aqua-green trash truck’s visit last week, the driver got out and asked permission to give something to the boy.

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Daniel Mulligan, a 5-year-old autistic boy with a love of garbage trucks, got a special surprise that was caught on video. (Credit: Robin Newberger via The Gift)

“Can I give a present to him?” said the driver, identified as Manuel Sanchez.

Sanchez then brought out a bag as the boy, 5-year-old Daniel Mulligan, watched.

“He wants to give you something — a present,” mom Robin Newberger said.

Inside the large bag that Sanchez handed to Daniel was a plastic truck.

“You’re not going to believe it, but he had one like this and it broke,” Newberger said.

Quietly, Daniel said, “Thank you.”

The 96-second video was sent to the advocacy organization Autism Speaks, which in turn shared it on Facebook on Feb. 12. By Monday, it had been viewed more than 676,000 times on YouTube.

“One man, one moment, touching the life of an autistic child,” wrote Newberger in a Facebook message, according to Autism Speaks. “Our hearts are overflowing.”

Daniel’s initial fear of trash trucks turned into an obsession and a ritual, Newberger wrote.

“He waits all week for Monday morning pickup. He knows exactly which cans are being picked up each week, and Sundays are special for him when he takes the cans out with his dad,” she said. “Our recycle man, known only to us as Manuel, is his favorite. He always has a big smile for Daniel, who is faithfully waiting for him every Monday. To him, trash pickup is like a symphony. He synchronizes his hand movements with the truck.

“We have so many ‘Trash Day’ videos, but this one is like no other.”

Since the video took off, Newberger set up a Facebook page called “The Gift” for parents of children with autism to share similar stories.

Sanchez works for Ventura-based trash hauler E.J Harrison & Sons, which issued a statement about the interaction noting that Sanchez had bought the truck independent of the company, with his own money.

“Harrison Industries is so proud of our Ojai residential route driver Manuel Sanchez,” the statement read. “Little did Manuel know that his simple act of kindness would touch tens of thousands of people across the nation – and the world.”

Sanchez has been embarrassed by the attention he’s received — including over the fact that the gift was not wrapped, according to the statement.

“That little boy is so special, and he will steal anybody’s heart as soon as you see him,” Sanchez said in the statement. “I didn’t know what he has, but there’s something very special about him.”

The company stated  that it was “an honor” to have Sanchez as an employee.

“Manuel, you deserve the attention you are receiving,” the statement read. “You lifted the spirits of people around the world.”