LONDON — An autistic boy from Devon has received thousands of birthday cards, gifts and messages from strangers around the world after his mother’s online plea went viral.
Ollie Jones broke his mother Karen’s heart when he made himself two birthday cards because he assumed no one would be wishing him well for his 15th birthday.
Karen Jones, 49, then took to Facebook to request help on a community page. She wrote, “my autistic son is 15 shortly … he’s just told me he loves opening cards to [the] extent he’s made himself a couple.”
“We are a small family and he has no friends so gets very few.”
‘I’m famous, I’m famous’
Her Facebook post received over 25,000 shares and almost 1,000 comments, mostly from well-wishers saying their cards were on the way to Ollie. Her plea also extended to Twitter, with numerous well-wishers using the hashtag #Cards4Ollie.
Although there is no final count, Karen Jones says she and Ollie have opened 7,000 cards so far — and they still have a long way to go. And while Jones is elated with the many gifts she and Ollie have received from around the world, she told CNN, “gifts are not what it’s about. It’s about making us feel good, and others feel good.”
“I’ve received so many messages from other individuals and groups who feel that as a result of the events of the last few days, and the compassion it’s triggered globally, the autistic community have hopefully been empowered,” she added.
Some well-wishers have sent messages from as far away as Brazil and Australia.
Karen Jones, who had initially hoped for about 20 cards, said it may take a while to open them all. She urged everyone to “remember there are ‘Ollies’ everywhere.”
Her son ended the night of his birthday by sitting “in his friend’s hot tub, taking photos of himself on his new selfie stick saying ‘I’m famous’, ‘I’m famous’,” she said.
Small acts of kindness
Jane Harris, Director of External Affairs at the National Autistic Society, said Ollie’s story “shows how small acts of kindness can make a huge difference to the lives of autistic people and their families.
“Over one in 100 people are autistic in the UK, and many find it hard to communicate with and form relationships with other people. But no one should fall for the myth that autistic people are loners or prefer to spend time on their own; many want to have friends but struggle to do so because of difficulties understanding the social world,” she said.
“If anyone is unsure how best to communicate with someone on the autistic spectrum, the simple answer is to ask them or someone who knows them well, whether a family member, friend or professional.”