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They are the first things Will Haley looks for in the morning, and the last things on his mind before bed. He dips their tips in water when they run dry, and tries to squeeze out the last bit of ink. They are Crayola markers in a color called primrose, the purple shade the 12-year-old boy with autism is obsessed with.
“Primrose is the color he has in his hand almost all the time,” his mom, Stacey Haley, told TODAY.com. “He walks around with the markers like a security blanket.”
When he is highly anxious, his world stops without them.
Haley has been buying a new pack of markers roughly every week, just to get a single primrose marker.
She thought she found a novel way to build a small supply for Christmas: On Facebook she posted, "Cry for help for this frazzled, stressed-out (and broke) autism mama," and offered to trade two of her extra markers for every one primrose.
But people with the markers didn't want anything in return. Within hours, a friend appeared at her doorstep in Bowmanville, Ontario, with three primrose markers in hand.
“I almost cried,” Haley said. “I was really touched someone thought it was a big enough deal to come to my house. Once I started getting messages that more were coming, I was blown away.”
The hundreds of online messages that followed came from people around the world who promised to send more primrose markers and offered kind words of understanding.
She is now expecting perhaps 500 markers, an unexpected outpouring from friends and strangers alike that has filled her with gratitude.
“Hundreds of people have shown my son that he is very well loved, from people who don’t even know him, and that’s going to make this Christmas the best Christmas,” Haley said.
“He might not know the faces behind the markers, but he’s going to feel that kindness through the markers.”
Will is severely autistic and has an extreme fixation with the primrose markers — the kind of intense interest in something like transportation vehicles or maps that can be typical for children with autism.
His love of the primrose marker is tied to his obsession with the Wiggles.
From a young age, Will would hold crayons in the colors (red, yellow, blue and purple) worn by the cast of the popular Australian children’s music group, and would draw with those colors, too.
Over the last year, her son’s taste became “more refined,” and for him, primrose, a purple with a hint of pink, became a better choice than generic purple for Jeff, the original purple Wiggle.
As his obsession took hold, as Haley wrote on Facebook: “No primrose means hell in my household.”
She hoped her trade idea would bring in five primrose markers.
So far, about 25 have arrived from people who read her post, and after supporters sent her Facebook plea to Crayola Canada, Haley said she received 50 markers from the company as well.
“We’re just really happy that Crayola primrose markers are able to give her son comfort and security,” said Margot Somerville, a company spokeswoman who confirmed that an unspecified number of markers were sent. “It’s a wonderful feeling.”
Perhaps more than the pens, Haley is touched that her plea is raising awareness about autism and the kinds of everyday struggles parents face, like dealing with a child who has an obsession with an obscure item.
Haley has three sons, and Will’s twin brother also has autism.
“Once I started hearing from other people who have children with autism, and they were saying, ‘Thank you. You’re helping my kids because other people are having a better understanding of what we go through,’ I can see this is a good thing,” Haley said.
The experience has left her feeling inspired and far from alone.
“I feel that I’m being supported by many, many, many other autism parents who know what I’m going through,” she said, “and even better than that, I’m being supported by strangers who have just shown compassion that I did not know was out there.”
Lisa A. Flam, a regular contributor to TODAY.com, is a news and lifestyles reporter in New York. Follow her on Twitter.