Autistic boy from NI inspiration for astronaut doll

Hayden and doll Image copyright Lottie Dolls
Image caption The doll can be sold in 30 countries across the world

Imagine meeting your space hero and then becoming the inspiration for an astronaut doll.

Hayden Geraghty, an eight-year-old autistic boy from Limavady, County Londonderry, had limited speech until the day Tim Peake was launched into space in 2015.

Hayden began to count down to the rocket's take-off. His speech has been improving ever since.

Lottie Dolls, a company in Donegal, makes figures inspired by children.

Hayden, who is the youngest member of the Astronomy Ireland club, was the spark for a new addition to the Lottie Doll range called Loyal Companion Finn

Finn is dressed in a space suit just like Hayden's and can be bought by people all around the world.

"Astronauts help me learn more about our planet," said Hayden.

"They help me learn 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."

Image caption Hayden has autism and until December 2015 his family had never heard him say a full sentence

Lottie Dolls told BBC News NI their latest figure was created to emphasize that "childhood should be an inclusive place, where every child belongs regardless of gender, ethnicity or ability".

The doll also comes with an assistance puppy with a blue bandana to signal that the dog has been trained to support a child with autism.

Image copyright Geraghty family
Image caption Hayden had the chance to meet his hero when he visited Belfast

Hayden's mother, Caroline, told BBC News NI: "I was an incredible moment to hear him speak for the first time.

"His love for space has changed his life and everything about him.

"Tim Peake actually took a stargazing doll to space himself. Through our hard work and campaigning we were introduced to Lottie Dolls. They were totally inspired by Hayden.

"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.

"Finn the doll looks like Hayden and has the same suit and headphones which is really weird. It's just been an incredible experience and he is delighted."

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