An autistic schoolboy has inspired the first ever doll with the condition – complete with ear defenders, sunglasses and communication cards.
Space-mad Hayden Geraghty, nine, was non verbal and only started saying full sentences around four years ago – and hasn’t stopped since.
Toy company Lottie Dolls was so impressed with his transformation it designed a little toy inspired by Hayden.
The first ever doll with autism, the figure wears blue astronaut overalls and ear defenders and sunglasses – to cope with light and sound sensitivity.
‘Mini Hayden’ – officially called Finn Boy Doll – also has a service dog to help him cope with difficult situations, and communication cards to help him chat with his friends.
The £28.50 doll also wears a T-shirt which reads ‘Tesla, Einstein & Me’ – a nod to genius scientists Nikola Tesla and Albert Einstein, believed to be on the autistic spectrum.
Hayden who is obsessed with space travel, was largely non-verbal until he watched Tim Peake take off to the International Space Centre in December 2015.
He began shouting at the television: ‘10, 9, 8 , 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…. blast off!’.
It was one of the first times mum Caroline, 41, had heard her little boy say a full sentence – and it triggered a rapid increase in his language skills.
Mum Caroline, from Limavady, Northern Ireland, said: “The doll has the same headphones and clothes as Hayden so he really has put a lot of himself into the doll.
“The doll is there now for children across the world who might have autism. It also gets the message out there to children who don’t.
“When I first looked at the doll I thought ‘That’s the spitting image of Hayden’.
“Whenever we go to space conferences Hayden always wears the signature flight suit.
“He wears his ear defenders just to help shut out the stormy weather. He’s amazed by the fact that boys and girls around the world can have a doll like him.
“It’s helped him understand if you have an idea you can achieve anything.”
Mum-of-one Caroline said she knew Hayden was “different” from around ten months old because he wasn’t meeting common milestones or making eye contact.
After battling with doctors for years, he was eventually diagnosed with autism aged five.
He learned Makaton at school – which combines signs, symbols and sounds – but aged around four he said his first sentence when he asked “what’s the crack?”
But struggled to speak fully – until he saw Tim Peake go into space in December 2015.
Hayden sent astronaut Dr Niamh Shaw a painting of Mars, and she was so impressed she got in touch with the CEO of Lottie Dolls to tell them about Hayden.
Hayden was sent three Lottie Dolls – a range of dolls which are inspired by children – and, after reading the leaflets inside each box, he realised there wasn’t an autistic doll in the range.
Determined Hayden wrote to Lottie Dolls CEO Ian Harkin to tell him of the gap in the market, and got a response before the end of 2017.
Both he and mum Caroline met with Ian in February 2018 and seven months later Finn Boy Doll was launched in the UK and Ireland.
Caroline, a former fitness instructor, said: “He was just transfixed by these dolls and his imagination would run away with him.
“When he read the leaflets he turned to me and said ‘I’d love to have one like me.’ So we wrote to Lottie Dolls to tell them about Hayden’s journey.
“He thought it’ll be great to reach and inspire a wider audience with his story. With autism nothing is visual.
“When he went to the European Space Agency in October we bought six dolls with us. We handed them out but Hayden was dead set on giving one to Tim Peake.
“We know people in the circle now so we were able to pass it on to the right people. For two months Hayden would ask me; ‘Have you heard anything from Tim mummy?’
“He’s based in Cologne and know he is an extremely busy man.
“But two months later he sent a postcard which read: ‘Hayden. Thank you for the Lottie Doll – keep doing amazing things! Tim Peake’. Hayden was over the moon.”
The company behind Lottie Dolls does not outwardly highlight diversity on the packaging or marketing but anyone who buys the doll will find out more about Hayden.
Ian Harkin, co-founder and CEO of Lottie Dolls, said: “We want kids to buy it first and foremost because it is a cool doll and they later discover inside the box that he has ear defenders (not headphones) a dog (which happens to be a service dog), communication cards and a pair of sunglasses because of light sensitivity.
“By playing with a diverse set of doll kids develop empathy and understanding of kids with disabilities and it normalises behaviour.
“We want all kids to have a diverse toy box, as much as its important for kids to see dolls that look just like them its important for other kids to learn about empathy.
“Hayden’s doll will be on sale in over 30 countries within the coming year.
“We are huge fans of Hayden’s work in promoting his love of astronomy and being a role model for other kids with Autism and ADHD.”
In January, Hayden was awarded the title Planetary Defence Ambassador after impressing astronauts at Nasa’s Human Exploration Research Analog.
He is also the youngest member of Irish Astronomical Association and even has his own monthly column in Astronomy Ireland magazine.
In June, Hayden will travel to Luxembourg to meet some of his space heroes having been personally invited to attend World Asteroid Day.
Caroline said: “His dream is to get the doll out into space whether that be Tim or another astronaut.
“He’s adamant to get the world’s first autistic doll into outer space.”