ANDOVER — Cathy Pearson wanted to make sure this birthday was different for her severely autistic son, Logan.
So after years of Logan’s birthday passing without fanfare due to his disability, Pearson put a call out to friends and family to send birthday wishes to her son, who turns 12 on Monday.
In a matter of days, cards and gifts started arriving at an alarming rate.
And not just from friends and family. The world answered the call, sending thousands of cards, as well as gifts and souvenirs, too.
One card contained a crisp $20 bill and a handwritten note, reading, “to be used only for ice cream. Enjoy.” Another came with the words “Happy Birthday Logan” punched in braille and then rewritten in ink. This week, a stranger sent along a card with a $100 gift card to Toys “R” Us.
The Boston Police Department shipped a police academy shirt. A classroom from Tanzania sent a package of letters. Even Elmo forwarded an autographed picture.
The outpouring has been more than Pearson and her husband, James, could have ever fathomed for their oldest child, who is nonverbal and cognitively at the developmental level of an 18-month or 2-year-old.
James Pearson said due to the nature of Logan’s disability, it’s been hard to mark Logan’s birthday like other children, including his two younger siblings. So over the years, as Logan’s disability became more apparent, his family celebrated his birthday less and less.
“The expectation is you go to birthday parties and social events, and kids interact with each other,” James Pearson said. “But because of his disability, he can’t interact.
“It was just ... kind of a little bit of a bummer. And my wife, every year on his birthday, would feel sad about it. I’d feel sad, too, but not the same way a mom does.”
In her initial post to friends and family via Facebook on Jan. 30, Cathy Pearson said she was already “feeling sick about losing another year where autism has my son — has his voice! Every year on his birthday, I close my bedroom door and bury my face into my pillow and cry.”
“I guess everyone realizes that he doesn’t understand anyways,” she wrote. “This year, I want to stop feeling downright upset that my son is aging into a young man under a blanket of autism. I want to CELEBRATE him and ENJOY his day.”
The Facebook post came equipped with permission from Cathy Pearson to share and pass it around. From there, “it ended up, really, getting re-posted beyond what she had expected to the point that it went viral.”
As the post has made its way around the globe, including to autism support networks everywhere, well wishes by the hundreds from as far away as Japan and Tanzania have flooded the family’s Lowell Street home.
“He has received, from one kid in Washington, a Jay Jay the Jet Plane play set. He has gotten a Slinky, Hot Wheels cars,” James Pearson said. “Someone sent us an Australian flag — a full-size Australian flag. We also have an Australia magnet on our fridge now.”
Bruce O’Connell, a 24-year veteran of the U.S. Postal Service, said he knew something was going on when the family’s mail started bulking up beyond reason.
“After the first day, I was getting handfuls of cards,” O’Connell said. “I didn’t know who Logan was at the time and was curious who he was. I started getting envious. I don’t get half these greetings.”
Over time, handfuls of cards became totes of mail delivered daily with return addresses from around the country. Then, the mail started displaying international labels and stamps, too, O’Connell said.
James Pearson estimates Logan has received a couple thousand pieces of mail, with more arriving daily.
O’Connell wonders if the senders realize they are part of something global that has united people from all over the world.
“If someone sends something from Great Britain, do they know it’s coming from Japan, too?” he said.
In addition to the birthday wishes for Logan, many people have also taken the opportunity to pass a message on to his parents.
“One of the ones that touched us the most was a woman who related to us that she, too, had a son with autism, and she had experienced the same kinds of feelings,” James Pearson said. “She said, ‘In honor of both my son and yours, I’m going to send Logan a birthday card every year.’”
The woman is not alone, with others pledging to continue sending Logan birthday cards annually, which his father said “will be exciting to see.”
The experience has also led to a request from Autism Speaks for Cathy Pearson to start a blog and share “what it is like to raise a child so severely impacted with autism.”
While the family recognizes that Logan likely doesn’t understand the significance of the response he has sparked, they said they do. And they believe Logan realizes something special is occurring, too.
“We’re at the point where we believe he understands more than we give him credit for. I know for sure he responds to us being excited,” James Pearson said. “For that reason, we still want to do something for him.”
So tomorrow, the family will be going out to eat at one of Logan’s favorite restaurants — Fuddruckers in North Andover.
But this will not be like their past trips to the restaurant.
Logan and his family will be escorted there by officers from the Andover, North Andover and Cambridge police departments, according to Andover Police Lt. Edward Guy. The police departments are footing the bill for the family’s meal as well.
That gesture and all the cards have done much to guarantee Logan will have the kind of birthday he deserves, his family says.
“The fact that this many people that we’ve never met before would take the time, and the energy, and the money for postage, and send a kid they don’t know — in some cases across the world — a card for his birthday, to me, that’s inspiring,” James Pearson said. “It just amazes me that people will do that.”
It isn’t too late to send a birthday card to Logan Pearson. Birthday wishes should be addressed to Logan at 311 Lowell St., Apt. 3210, Andover, MA 01810.