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Support and Hot Wheels after fire

  • Story Highlights
  • Box full of Hot Wheels sent to boy with autism who lost everything
  • Familiar toys are important for children with autism
  • It was "like Christmas" to receive donations, mother says
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By Madison Park
CNN
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(CNN) -- After the fire, all that was left of Jonathan Reyes' massive Hot Wheels collection was a piece of metal that once was part of a toy car.

Jonathan Reyes shows off his new Hot Wheels cars sent by Mattel after they heard his own toys were lost in a fire.

But on Wednesday, the arrival of two cardboard boxes at his grandparents' house sent 7-year-old Jonathan flying to the door, said his mother, Jan Reyes.

Mattel, the company that makes Hot Wheels, sent racetracks, play sets, stickers, folders, T-shirts, hats and hundreds of toy cars.

"He was speechless," Reyes said. "He didn't say anything. He just smiled. He opened it up. It was like Christmas. All of us were bawling, crying. He was so happy."

Jonathan, who has autism, meticulously collected more than 500 Hot Wheels. But all that was destroyed when his Sylmar home, along with hundreds of other structures, were burned down by wildfires in Los Angeles County.

Toys are like anchors for children with autism, psychologists say. They like to play with the same toys, eat familiar foods and be in a consistent environment. When faced with unpredictable changes, they can feel frustrated or anxious and become disruptive, according to experts.

On Tuesday, Jonathan and his parents searched for his toys among piles of debris, but they found only a piece of a Hot Wheels car and a rusty tricycle. The rest of Jonathan's toys were reduced to ashes. Video Watch the Reyes family return to their home. »

Mattel, with headquarters in El Segundo, California, wanted to get involved after hearing on CNN that Jonathan, who had been collecting Hot Wheels since he was 2, had lost everything. Looking for hope in the ashes.

"We wanted to send as many as possible," said Deborah Dicochea, associate manager of the Mattel Children's Foundation, which sends toys globally to children affected by crisis. "With autistic children, they like sorting them, arranging them."

Offers of toys, a computer, resources to connect to other families dealing with autism and financial donations have been pouring into the family.

"It's wonderful, because he literally lost every toy he had," Reyes said. "He had a personal attachment to all of his toys. Part of autism is they have a little connection to everything and his biggest thing was to his cars. For Mattel to send him the cars and tracks, it's just incredible. He is so happy."

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The toll of the disruption to Jonathan's life is starting to become evident. He has been throwing more frequent tantrums as his parents are trying to establish a new routine. But the toys definitely have helped, Reyes said.

"The cars were like gold," she said.

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