Saturday 24 August 2019

How strangers on Twitter brought Christmas joy to this autistic teenager

Thomas Dutton’s parents discovered social media can be a source of kindness – and Postman Pat VHS tapes.

Thomas and his parents and the VHS tape from Jill Hulme
Thomas and his parents and the VHS tape from Jill Hulme

By Edd Dracott

The parents of a severely autistic teenager have praised “the kindness of complete strangers” after Twitter users helped them source a discontinued Postman Pat video to give to him as a Christmas present.

James and Cindy Dutton, from Ruislip in west London, took to social media after their son Thomas, 19, asked for Postman Pat’s Prize Postbag on VHS on his handwritten gift list.

“Thomas is autistic with a severe learning disability, and finds the written word easier than speaking to express himself,” they told the Press Association. “It’s only been the third Christmas that he has really been aware of being able to ask for presents.”

Thomas' list

James and Cindy, who are no longer married, said Thomas wrote the list over the weekend and it consists of entirely second-hand gifts, from a Monster’s University jigsaw to further videos of Postman Pat and Fireman Sam.

Thomas’s parents said he has “always been obsessed with children’s characters” and Postman Pat is one of his favourites.

“He loves watching the episodes he finds on YouTube,” they added. “However, he also likes having a physical copy to line up with other ones near his bed.”

They had managed to source every item on Thomas’s list except one – Postman Pat’s Prize Postbag remained elusive, so they took to social media.

Cindy’s plea on Facebook was shared several times, but James’s tweet received a huge response with more than 7,500 retweets.

Jill Hulme from Bournemouth, saw the tweet after Strictly Come Dancing performer Brendan Cole shared it, and contacted James to tell him she had a copy she was about to give to charity.

“It really is a wonderful story which I’m so grateful to be part of,” Jill said. “I have three boys who, when I told what had happened, were so pleased to hear that Thomas would be getting such a great surprise on Christmas morning.”

James, a professional flautist, and Cindy, a nurse working for the NHS, said Bournemouth is “one of Thomas’s favourite places” and they will go to collect the video on Saturday.

“It will mean a huge amount for him on Christmas Day,” they added. “Nothing he asks for is a high-cost item, but it’s all about the value to him and his innocent child-like enjoyment of life.”

Thomas Dutton

The parents added: “We have both been overwhelmed by the response from members of the public, with so many suggestions, advice and offers to search garages and attics on our behalf!

“I think the biggest thing that we have learned is the power of social media for good things, and the kindness of complete strangers.”

PA Media

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