In their early years, many children develop a fond attachment to certain objects that bring them comfort. For me, a small pink blanket I draped over my toddler shoulders served as my security blanket, much like the Peanuts’ cartoon character Linus. My mother tells of how I stood by the washer and dryer waiting for that beloved pink blanket’s return during necessary laundry sessions. Most appealing about this blanket was the satin binding around the edges that I fingered as I sucked my thumb. In fact, I so associated the two calming sensory activities that when I decided to stop my thumb-sucking habit, I told my mom to throw my blanket away. Wisely, she simply hid my pink blanket in case I changed my mind, but my resolve proved strong, and I never resumed my old habit nor needed the blanket I had dragged around until I was five.
When Alex was little, he had a beloved blanket, as well, although his was too large to carry around. As a toddler, he slept under a quilt my grandfather had given me. Years earlier, Paw Paw had bought handmade quilts for each of his six grandchildren. Mine has squares depicting little boys carrying fishing poles. The most eye-catching elements are the various brightly colored fabric hats and boots the boys are wearing that are appliquéd on the quilt. Alex was drawn to this design, and he called the quilt “the boys with socks.” Every night as he happily snuggled under his cozy quilt, he seemed content that “the boys with socks” would keep him company all night long.
Aside from the security blanket, Alex has had other objects that he finds comforting. However, most of them have been electronic items, such as graphing calculators, spelling correctors, and handheld games. If he misplaced these precious possessions, he became upset and even frantic until we found them. Because these things were so important to him, we learned to keep batteries on hand at all times to ensure they never lost power. In addition, we even bought duplicates of some of these items so that he wouldn’t melt down when they temporarily disappeared or permanently broke. Apparently, his attachment to certain objects is rather common in the autism community.
In a recent article, “Some autistic people find comfort in specific objects. What happens when they’re not available anymore?” published on October 4, 2019, in Vox, author Sarah Kurchak explains why people with autism value comfort items. [To read this article, please click here.] She notes that autistic people like herself dislike change and prefer stability, often found in certain objects. For her, a specific type of iPod offers her comfort because the songs programmed on her playlist drown out noise, and she finds the texture of the click wheel soothing. Since this device is no longer manufactured, she explains that she has been searching eBay online for a specific model identical to the one she owns that needs to be replaced. As she states, “We tend to use the same items over and over again until they fall apart, or we lose them.”
When children with autism lose precious comfort objects or these items break or wear out over time, parents often turn to the Internet to find exact duplicates. However, some of these products may no longer be available, which makes this desperate search more complicated. A few years ago, a father from England began searching for a specific drinking cup, the only one his son with autism would use. In the article “Little Blue Cup: Dad Who Searched For Tommee Tippee Cup For Son With Autism Starts Global Kindness Project,” published November 22, 2017, in Huffington Post, Amy Packham explains how Marc Carter started an online network to find specific items for people with special needs. [To read this article, please click here.]
After he searched for the discontinued cups his son, Ben, needed, the company that had previously made them sent him five hundred exact duplicates. Recognizing that other parents of children with autism may have similar needs, Ben’s father established Little Blue Cup, a Facebook page for parents seeking specific hard-to-find objects. Explaining the purpose of this online networking project, he states, “If you care for someone with disabilities or special needs and they need a cup, bottle, or anything else, something small that keeps them happy, healthy, and from having the most challenging times, please let me know and we will search the Internet together.”
Looking over the Little Blue Cup Facebook pages (including a page specifically for the United States and Canada), one sees requests for a variety of objects held dear by people with special needs: blankets, clothing, stuffed animals, and other toys. Most of these items are rare or no longer manufactured, making the search to replace them more difficult. While the requests and stories behind them are touching, the responses to the families’ needs are also heartwarming as people try to fulfill these requests with similar or exact duplicates. Clearly, Marc Carter’s experience with his own son’s needs allowed him not only to display his empathy by setting up the Little Blue Cup Project but also to provide a way for people to interact compassionately by requesting and fulfilling special needs.
Although comfort items are typically associated with children, the need for these special objects often continues into adulthood for people with autism. As one adult with autism remarks in the Vox article, “As you get into adulthood, you’re kind of told that you’re not supposed to have comfort items…It’s not an exclusively autistic thing, but it gets drilled into us that we have to outgrow certain childish tendencies, like having comfort stuffed animals or comfort items that you take with you all the time. If autism is seen as a developmental disorder, then autistic people are seen as people who have to outgrow childhood.” Fortunately, with the establishment of the Little Blue Cup Project and the support from people willing to share comfort items, perhaps those with autism can retain not only objects precious to them but also an innocent childlike existence where they can feel comfort in knowing people love and care about them and will strive to meet even the seemingly smallest of their needs.
“When doubts filled my mind, your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer.” Psalm 94:19