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It was a simple baby blanket, gifted to a Massachusetts mom at her baby shower more than three years ago. But what Crystal Eldridge did not know as she opened the gift was that the blanket — blue with construction vehicles — would become the sole source of comfort for her baby, Parker, who had autism.
Today, Parker is two, and completely smitten with his plush, blue blanket. Unfortunately, the constant love given to the blanket by the toddler has caused it to wear thin, ripping in some places and causing his mom to worry about what will happen on the day when the blanket wears too thin and is unusable.
"Parker has loved this blanket since birth — I've tried over the past two and a half years to get him to accept others as his lovey, but it's been unsuccessful," Eldridge told TODAY Parents. "With autism and sensory sensitivity, he becomes very fixated on objects. This blanket has been a soothing tool for him."
Eldridge says she searched local stores for a matching blanket, Googled images of the blanket in an attempt to purchase a replacement, and even tried contacting the manufacturer in China with no luck. It was then that, in a moment of desperation, Eldridge reached out to Christine Blackmon, who moderates Facebook community Delicate Flower, for help.
Eldridge wrote a Facebook message to Blackmon earlier this month, explaining her situation.
"I have a two-and-a-half-year-old son who is my absolute world," Eldridge wrote in her message. "Parker has autism...he is non-verbal and when he is upset and can't calm down, he snuggles his blanket."
"This blanket is his everything," the message continues. "His is getting very worn. I'm getting nervous that I'll never find a backup. Would you mind asking your followers if they have one?"
Blackmon, who recently found viral fame after posting a nude photo of herself in response to Playmate Dani Mathers body shaming a fellow gym-goer, decided to use her large following for good, putting out a call to her Facebook community asking if anyone had a matching blanket for Parker.
"I felt for her," said Blackmon, who has a stepson with the disorder. "I have some experience with autism and understand the need for consistency. And, my youngest isn't autistic, but has a special 'snuggles,' and I know the panic we go through when we can't find it."
Traci Slatten, a Texas mom who also has a child with autism, says when she saw the post on Blackmon's Facebook page, she decided to try to help. Slatten posted in an online parenting community for her local area, asking if anyone had a matching blanket to give to Parker.
Soon after, Slatten was contacted by Esmerelda Flores-Diaz, a fellow mom who did, in fact, have a blanket to match Parker's. The women connected, mailing Parker a backup blanket that was a perfect match to his own.
"It truly takes a village when having (autistic children,)" said Slatten. "I just wanted another mother to know, 'Hey, you're not alone, I totally get you.' When I got the picture of Parker when he got the blanket, my heart was filled with joy to know that even though I'm in Texas and he's in Massachusetts, there really is no distance between us."
Colleen Bethel, a Florida mom, saw Blackmon's post and immediately shared it in other Facebook groups she is a part of.
"My initial reaction was, 'We have to help this mom find this blanket," said Bethel. "And, one of the teachers at my daughter's old daycare actually responded that she had one that she was not using and that I was welcome to have it."
"If it were me, I would hope that there would be someone out there to help me," Bethel continued. "I know how hard it is to raise children and it's even harder to reach out to virtual strangers for help. The strength this mom showed reaching out for her son — I knew I had to do something."
Parker has received both backup blankets in the mail. And, Eldridge says her son does not seem to know the difference between the replacement blankets and the original.
"Both ladies have made me such a happy mom," said Eldridge.
Blackmon says while maintaining a Facebook community has its ups and downs, she was deeply proud of her "delicate flowers," for the way they came to the aid of a mom in need.
"I knew how grateful Crystal would be, but I didn't realize how grateful I would be," said Blackmon. "When Parker gets older, Crystal can tell him the story about how he brought together thousands of women to work towards a common goal based off pure love and compassion. That's a pretty huge accomplishment for such a young dude."