CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Decked out in pink and dressed vaguely like a pig, 8-year-old Caden Chapman complained about his costume.
"Mom, I'm hot," he groaned.
In fact, Caden did look a little pale and flushed. Ten seconds before he sat down, the third-grader at Eastbrook Elementary had been scampering upstairs with some of the other kids rehearsing for the Alban Arts Center's production of "Charlotte's Web," which continues this weekend.
Caden had the plum role of Wilbur, "Zuckerman's Famous Pig," which, in this case, called for him to wear a pair of fuzzy pink overalls and a cap with pig ears sewn on it.
Another boy his age (and many much older) might blanch at the thought of having to wear such a getup, but Caden didn't seem to mind. After 14 plays in four years, Caden is cool about how he looks. Costumes are just part of the fun -- even if they can get kind of warm.
"We got started with this when he was 5," said his mother, Paige. "We haven't had a break since," she said, "but this," gesturing toward the theater around them, "has been a blessing."
Local theater, she explained, has been something they can rely on for Caden.
Inside the theater, Caden is relatively safe. Inside the theater, he's just another slightly hyper kid hanging out with other slightly hyper kids.
It's outside the carefully controlled environment of shadows and lights, in the real world, that's where things can get scary.
For lack of a better way to put it, Caden is allergic to the sun.
Caden has alternating hemiplegia of childhood, a rare neurological condition that causes strokelike seizures. Symptoms of an attack can include loss of motor functions, loss of sight and cognitive impairment, and muscle spasms.
"It feels like 'boom,'" Caden said, looking up and simulating an explosion with his hands.
These episodes are extremely debilitating and potentially permanently damaging.
After an attack, his mother explained, Caden forgets things he's learned and it sometimes takes awhile to get them back. She also believes that his condition has probably affected how her son can learn, but so far it hasn't severely impacted his ability to learn lines.
Still, Caden has been mostly lucky.
Children with alternating hemiplegia of childhood frequently have developmental disabilities and mental impairment brought on by the damage caused by the seizures. About 50 percent develop epilepsy by the time they're Caden's age. Caden doesn't have epilepsy, and other than some dodgy handwriting and trouble with math, he seems like a pretty normal kid.
Factors that trigger episodes vary from person to person. For some, foods such as chocolate can cause attack. For others, it's emotional stress or vigorous physical activity.
Caden's seizures are triggered by bright light and heat: sunshine.
Paige said they knew early on that something wasn't right with her son. One morning, as she was dropping Caden off at her mother's before work, she noticed her son seemed to sag to the left in his car seat.
"It looked like a stroke," she said.
The pair took him to the hospital. Doctors did a CT scan, but then Caden went to sleep, and when he woke up he was better.