We’re on a mission, at Lottie Dolls, to empower kids – regardless of gender, ability or ethnicity - to follow their dreams. Enjoy this inspirational story about how astronaut Tim Peake unlocked a whole new world for a little boy with autism and how a representational boy doll – with benefits for all kids - was created along the way.
“10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1...”
As astronaut Tim Peake blasted off on his journey to reach the International Space Station, nobody was more surprised than Caroline Geraghty when her young son joined in with the countdown. Up until that point, 5-year-old Hayden had been virtually non-verbal, relying on a series of printed cards to help him communicate. The spark that Tim Peake’s Principia mission ignited opened-up new worlds for Hayden, now diagnosed with autism and ADHD, triggering an interest in all things space-related.
“Before diagnosis, and when Hayden was non-verbal, it was a very tough time for him,” says Caroline Geraghty. “It was frustrating, as he could not communicate his needs.”
But Hayden, who is the youngest member of his astronomy club, is now able to express himself and his goals with clarity,“Astronauts helped me learn more about our planet, how beautiful it is from space, how important it is to take care of it. One day my dream is to go to Space, to the Moon or to Mars.”
Hayden didn’t know at the time that accompanying Tim Peake on his mission was “Stargazer Lottie”, a doll from international toy company Lottie Dolls, inspired by a six-year-old girl called Abigail, produced in collaboration with the European Space Agency. The doll spent 264 days in total on the ISS.
Caroline says, "Even before Hayden could speak I would notice he watched the stars in the night sky, so the interest was always there, he just wasn't able to communicate it before.”
“Rigid academic and social expectations could wind up stifling a mind that, while it might struggle to conjugate a verb, could one day take us to distant stars.”
That’s according to Temple Grandin, professor, inventor, author and expert in the disparate worlds of animal science and autism education who herself was diagnosed with autism as a child. She points out that there needs to be an emphasis on building up the strengths of young children with autism rather than focusing on so-called “deficits”.
After recently inspiring an addition to the Lottie Dolls’ range, Hayden certainly has lots of strengths to emphasise. In addition to an astronaut jumpsuit, the “Loyal Companion boy doll” set that he inspired includes an assistance puppy, communication cards, headphones and sunglasses (to assist with the sensory issues related to bright lights that some young children with autism can experience).
Representation of diversity in the toy-box matters but the benefits of toys like “Loyal Companion boy doll” – for all kids - reach beyond that. Psychologist Dr Sian Jones from Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh has studied the effects of different types of play on the attitudes of children without disability and difference. Interviewing hundreds of kids, she found that after playing with kids’ toys - like the one inspired by Hayden - children were more open to forming friendships with peers with disability and difference.
Matt Taylor, the scientist behind ‘Rosetta’, Hayden’s favourite Space mission says, “I loved Stargazer Lottie and so it’s great to see a new doll inspired by the very awesome Hayden.”
Dr Niamh Shaw - Irish Space Explorer/Communicator/Scientist Engineer
Dr Niamh Shaw says, “Hayden is a very special child, who has found his voice through his passion for space. And I'm beyond delighted to see the launch of the Hayden-inspired doll. The doll will help to raise awareness about autism and make all of us think about how we can better support families with autistic children.”
Grass-roots campaigners, Let Toys Be Toys, said of the launch, “We love to see toys presented in a way that inspires great play experiences for boys and girls alike. Children learn through play, so it's great to see dolls that draw on the examples of such diverse and inspirational young people to encourage children's dreams.”
Autism is a complex neurological condition in which the receptors of the brain do not function as they do with most people. Thought processes can be interrupted or happen too fast making it difficult for the person in question to concentrate on one thing at a time. Interaction with others can be affected but not always. Learning difficulties can be experienced but not always. Issues with communication can be present but again not always. The condition can be summed up perfectly thus: "You meet one person with autism, you meet one person with autism. No two people are the same". Each person has his or her own strengths and weaknesses. And, like Hayden, has the potential to become someone truly remarkable.