CAPTION: Joshua White, 5, and his mother Natasha Mason, with Joshua’s closest friend, Stickman PHOTO/JADE CVETKOV
By Beckie Wilson
Most young children have a favourite teddy bear or cuddly blanket, but a young rural Masterton boy’s best buddy is Stickman.
Five-year-old Joshua White was diagnosed with autism when he was three, but his diagnosis does not stop him from living life like any primary school kid.
On trips to Masterton’s Pak’n’Save with his mother Natasha Mason, the shopping trip can take twice as long as it normally would.
Joshua has to stop at every Stickman poster and say hi, give Stickman a wave and even a kiss.
One day last week, Mrs Mason decided to ask if the store had a spare Stickman cut-out she could buy.
The shop assistant went away for a while, but the wait was worth it.
She had printed a poster out especially Joshua.
“I was expecting an A4 size and when she turned up with the poster it said, ‘My buddy Joshua’ — I just think it’s absolutely fantastic,” she said.
Joshua doesn’t speak very much, but when he is in the supermarket he doesn’t stop chatting.
He says ‘Hi’ to the staff while he walks from Stickman to Stickman.
Mrs Mason never hurries him along as hearing him chatter away is music to her ears.
Wherever Joshua goes, so does Stickman.
Every day, the drop off and pick up from Lakeview School has to involve the Stickman poster coming off the wall, being rolled up and put in the car.
He doesn’t find it easy to make friends, and doesn’t like many other toys, so “it’s his buddy”, she said.
Joshua cannot get enough of Stickman. Each time the advertisement comes on the television, he does what the family calls ‘the wide-mouth frog’.
“He stands there with his mouth open and flaps.”
The bond began when he was little.
Whenever he saw the advertisement he would light up, she said.
She plans to get enough posters of Stickman to put up throughout the house for Joshua to enjoy.
Stickman has become an unlikely celebrity as the Pak’n’Save logo in the past decade.
In 2011, the Stickman adverts were a finalist for Best Ad in the Fair Go Ad Awards.
The family of five, including his siblings Avanti, 15 and Me-Kyla, 6, moved from Gisborne to Bideford about three years ago, where Joshua’s father, Jeffery White works on a sheep farm.
“The people in the community are just fantastic, they are so welcoming.
“It’s the little things that count — this is what we call home.”
She never knows when Joshua will have a meltdown, and when it does happen, someone from the community always lends a helping hand.
Most parents of children with disabilities felt that no one really cared about their child, she said.
But this act of kindness from Pak’n’Save was “amazing”.
The couple previously had difficulties having children.
Mrs Mason struggled with health problems after the birth of Me-Kyla, and when she fell pregnant with Joshua, they were told he could be born mute, or have under-developed limbs.
He is considered a miracle baby by the Mason-White family.
It is estimated that one in every 88 children is on the autism spectrum, according to Autism New Zealand.
Based on this figure, that is about 50,000 Kiwis, and the number is growing daily.
Masterton Pak’n’Save owner Paul de Lara-Bell said he was told a boy had come into the store who loved Stickman, so a staff member printed off a poster for him.
They have offered to print Joshua another, higher-quality poster soon.