Six-year-old Elijah De La Cerda of Fresno can win people over with a single smile.
Throw in his tendency to bust a move when he has an audience and the hugs he doles out to strangers, and Elijah has a good shot at making even Oscar the Grouch giggle.
Even if Elijah didn't have Down syndrome, he would have a story to tell.
But his condition, combined with his personality and the countless Down syndrome awareness events he has participated in, have turned the brown-eyed youngster into a spokesperson for people with Down syndrome.
He is on the cover of a national Toys R Us toy guide with actress Eva Longoria, and he has landed a modeling gig for a clothing boutique.
Everywhere he goes, Elijah reels in people who might otherwise be wary of a person who looks like him.
"He's a spokesperson for anyone who's different," said his mom, Jami De La Cerda of Fresno.
She and others who work with people with Down syndrome say they should be defined by more than their disability. Elijah has a knack for making you do that.
Last week he demonstrated it while leaving his tae kwon do class. A little boy who had just met Elijah told his own mom, "He doesn't talk." Elijah's mom chimed in, explaining that he does talk, he's just still learning how.
Without prompting, Elijah walked up to the boy, who was holding a sports drink in both hands. Elijah put his hands on the boy's wrists, pulled his arms apart and enveloped him in a hug.
Suddenly the group was laughing and chatting.
Down syndrome is caused by an extra chromosome that leads to delays in intellectual, language and physical development.
Elijah has hearing problems and though he still is learning to pronounce words, he knows them. He frequently communicates using sign language.
He couldn't have picked a more prepared family to be born into.
Jami and Daniel De La Cerda are both special education teachers. Jami founded the Diamond Learning Center for developmentally disabled adults in 2005.
Less than a year later, she gave birth to fraternal twins: Elijah and Samuel, who does not have Down syndrome and is his brother's shy counterpart.
They have an older brother, Isaiah, who is 9.
Careful to include all three boys in all activities -- Samuel and Isaiah have walked the runway, too -- the couple home-school their three boys in a rented four-room office in northwest Fresno.
The parents split their time between Diamond Learning Center and home schooling the boys. Other teachers come in to lead the boys in hitting a punching bag or painting water colors.
Early on, the family participated in awareness events that included fashion shows and performances by the Diamond Learning Center's band -- Elijah is a drummer.
It soon was apparent that Elijah was a showman.
"He's never met a camera or a mirror he didn't like," Jami De La Cerda said.
After sending his pictures to the annual Toys R Us casting call for its toy guide for differently abled kids, the company chose him from hundreds of submissions for its 2011 cover.
A smiling Elijah appeared with "Desperate Housewives" actress Eva Longoria on the cover of the guide, distributed at all 875 Toy R Us and Babies R Us stores nationwide.
"What Elijah has is not superior intellect, but a mother who is relentless in looking for those sorts of opportunities to promote Down syndrome awareness," said Denise Allshouse, founder of the Down Syndrome Association of Central California.
He does the rest with his personality.
Elijah was one of 20 children and young adults chosen from 70 who auditioned for the fashion show at the $500-a-plate Global Down Syndrome Foundation fund-raiser in Denver on Saturday. The kids were instructed to walk up to a table of judges and strike a pose, like a model would at the end of the runway.
Elijah, wearing one of his newsboy caps, spontaneously ditched the pose and surprised everyone with a dance move, swinging his hips while spinning in a circle.
The judges loved it, and even though the minimum age for the fashion show was 7, decided to sneak him in.
Jennifer Lucas caught the performance and was enthralled with Elijah. She runs the upscale children's clothing boutique Little Me's in Denver and donated the clothes for the fashion show. She chose Elijah to be one of several children photographed wearing her store's clothes for her Web site and local magazine advertising.
Cuteness is one requirement for making it into her marketing, but an ability to project that enthusiasm and personality onto the page is even more important, she said.
Put one of those newsboy caps on Elijah's head and dress him in some new clothes and he's on top of the world -- and it shows, Lucas said.
"I didn't choose him because he had Down syndrome," she said. "I chose him because he fit right in with all the other models." The process was an eye-opener for Lucas, who didn't have any experience with people with Down syndrome.
"I was so naive to how smart and capable these kids really are," she said. "I went into this thinking kids with Down syndrome had to go to special schools." Although some kids are educated separately, many take mainstream classes, said Allshouse. Some will spend their days in functional skills classes, joining their classmates for gym class.
Abilities vary greatly, but some people will move into their own apartments, get full-time jobs and driver's licenses.
Allshouse's 17-year-old son, Charlie, who has Down syndrome, was just voted prom king at Bullard High School.
"They have tremendous strengths and tremendous weaknesses, just like everybody else," she said.
Jami De La Cerda plans to keep Elijah participating in awareness events and other functions.
When he wins people over at those events, he's getting them to understand more about a population unfamiliar to many.
"Once the awareness is there and the acceptance is there and the education is there, it just becomes normal," she said. "It's not a scary thing."