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Astronaut Tim Peake opened whole new world for autisitc Derry boy Hayden

By Lisa Smyth

Hayden Geraghty didn't utter a word until he was three, and only spoke his first sentence a year later.

Even after reaching this milestone, the seven-year-old - who has since been diagnosed with autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) - struggled to concentrate on anything for more than a few minutes and had difficulty communicating with others.

But that all changed the moment he watched Major Tim Peake make history by becoming Britain's first official astronaut in December 2015, when he began shouting along with the countdown as the rocket prepared to blast off.

Now his mum has explained how the momentous occasion marked a new beginning for her son.

And she has urged parents of autistic kids to never give up hope that their children will also be able to break free of the challenges facing those with the condition.

Caroline, a 39-year-old carer from Limavady, Co Londonderry, said: "That day, watching Tim Peake's mission to the International Space Centre, started something in him.

"The whole purpose is just to get more autism awareness out there... any time a child shows an interest in something, don't let it go because there's something there.

"From what's happened with us, it's made a total change to his development, it's been incredible."

From the moment Hayden revealed his passion for space, his whole life has been transformed.

He has turned from an introverted little boy to a child who not only attends university lectures on space, but clamours to shake hands with his idols and even gets to his feet in front of a roomful of strangers to ask questions about the subject, including: "Have you discovered if there is any water at the centre of Mars?"

Caroline added: "Usually he would flit from one thing to another quite quickly, but the launch captivated him like nothing had before. It started coming in gradually and now he talks normally like any other child."

A highlight for Hayden was when he met Major Peake at a science festival in Belfast and the astronaut signed his helmet.

He is also part of a group called The Mars Generation, which aims to generate interest in space exploration, and has become one of the youngest space ambassador students.

It is a far cry from the youngster Caroline and her husband, 42-year-old Anthony, once knew.

They started to realise that Hayden was different when he was just 10 months old, and after his diagnosis they worried about his future, until his love for space was finally revealed.

Caroline added: "We thought after Tim Peake he would forget about it, but it's just kept going. He wants to go into space himself, he's really into the whole Mars thing. He's completely transformed."

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