Did you see this tweet? “Any idea where to get a @tommeetippee_UK cup that’s not made anymore? Son with severe #autism need replacement won’t drink from anything else.” The tweet was from @GrumpyCarer, or Marc as he is better known, after a three year quest to find a replacement cup for his autistic 14 year old son Ben. “His cup was wearing out, I had been searching for years online, I did so many searches around the words ‘blue-cup’ I just thought; I’ve searched everywhere, maybe I should just send a tweet. I found a few National Autistic Society celebrity supporters and tweeted asking them to share, but it was TV’s Autistic Gardener who shared it further and I think that’s what got the ball rolling. The next day I was at a local carer’s event and got an email from the BBC asking me to call them, which made me double take. I emailed back with a bit of background information and a picture of Ben and got on with my day. Next thing I know my brother’s texting me saying, ‘why are you the number one trending news item on the BBC website?!!’ #CupForBen literally went viral overnight.”

Since Ben was two he has used the same small blue Tommee Tippee drinking cup. “Ben has absolutely no interest in using another cup believe me we have tried replacements and he will just throw them at us. Once he went 120 hours without drinking he had to go to hospital, they finally scared him into drinking when they said they would have to put him on a drip. It was quite scary, we really needed those cups.

“Ben is autistic with learning difficulties, double incontinence and is non-verbal. He needs full time 1:1 support as he cannot care for himself.  Ben has never eaten or drunk at school or out of the house, to him it’s weird that people would do that; you should eat and drink in your bedroom, some people think he’s odd, well he thinks we’re odd.

When the post went viral and a few cups started to arrive I heard from Tommee Tippee, they had found the original cast of the cup. Hopefully I will be able to travel to China and see the cup being made as they have said they will make a batch of 1,000 for us. They have been amazing, if we want more we can have them, they have collected the cups from people, cleaned them and sent them out to us, while sending a new cup out to the family who sent in our cup. They are storing them in their warehouse for us and will deliver a few at a time so I don’t have to worry about Ben finding the stash, they are a great company.

“Its hard work being Ben’s carer, he’s a pain in the bum but I love him to bits, I totally adore him. We have tickle play together, lots of children with autism don’t show affection, but he gives me cuddles and we have a great bond. Ben’s favourite thing to do is to go to the seaside when it’s really stormy. It’s horrible for me but for him it’s a complete sensory overload, we wrap up in about 35 layers and sit out in the storm. Everything from the wind and rain in his face, noise from the sea and the birds flying sideways in the wind, he loves it all. His hood pops right off his head, his eyes wide and he’s flapping and screaming with laughter it’s just really sweet to see.”

Ben also loves music and uses his extensive CD collection as a way to communicate. “When he’s upset he will put on sad music to cry, something like Green Day’s “When September Ends” and he will go have a weep. We used to try to stop him, thinking it was awful, but actually it’s exactly what he needs, he needs to unwind. At the end of Goldie Lookin’ Chain’s “Guns don’t kill people, rappers do” there is a line that says “Love you Mum, love you Dad” and he will play this to us when we are in his room, it’s very emotional.

“The transition from Ben’s really old worn cup to a new one will be difficult. Currently when we wash it he thinks it’s not his because his had toast on the side, that’s how silly it is, no way could I just produce a new cup. So we will have to line up all the cups that have been donated in condition order and slowly start the process. I will try to keep the top on as it will still smell of him, because he does a lot of sniffing, and try to get him to accept newer and newer cups, but he now has enough to last him a life time.

“When I first tweeted about the cup I think people were just looking for some good news, I really feel like social media has been used for a good cause. The important thing for me is changing the ‘autism conversation’ away from the ‘Rain Man’ perception or from young children who are cute and pretty, because they grow up to have meltdowns you can no longer attempt to control and smear the walls at 3am. A young family in Wales contacted me to say they saw my post and cried, they thought they were the only ones with a child who refused to use another cup. Nobody understood that they couldn’t go out and spend time with friends or family because their child just wouldn’t drink.

“I’m glad that this has highlighted to families that they are not alone, and the best thing about all this is that people are talking and talking about autism. If I can raise a bit of awareness through this for other families and what they are going through then I have done some good.”

Watch Marc’s YouTube videos and support his campaign to create his own documentary, meeting families caring for children with similar needs to Ben. Marc is also helping other families find their ‘essential items’ follow @GrumpyCarer on Twitter for more information.