Belfast Telegraph

Hayden's progress out of this world since discovering a love for space

By Cate McCurry

A painting of Mars by a space-mad seven-year-old autistic boy who often struggled to concentrate for more than a few minutes will feature on a weightless flight as part of a zero gravity experiment in Russia.

Hayden Geraghty from Limavady, who was diagnosed with autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), struggled to communicate with others, but through his love of space and painting the young boy's speech and learning has remarkably progressed.

Dr Niamh Shaw, a scientist and engineer who works on a space studies programme, will feature the youngster's artwork while undergoing a zero gravity flight in Star City.

Hayden didn't utter a word until he was three and spoke his first sentence a year later. It was while watching British astronaut Tim Peake blast off for the International Space Station in December 2015 that Hayden began shouting along with the countdown as the rocket prepared for launch.

That moment marked the beginning of a love for space that has transformed his life.

His mum Caroline Geraghty explained how Dr Shaw contacted her over social media in a bid to explore Hayden's passion.

"We saw that she was travelling to Russia as part of this experiment and she asked people for suggestions of things she could bring with her, so Hayden painted a picture of the planet Mars and sent it to her, which she loved.

"He loves painting pictures of everything space - it helps him relax. When he was young he couldn't concentrate for more than a few minutes.

"His development from watching Tim Peake has been amazing. People will call it an obsession as he's fixated with space, but it's been great for him as he has improved so much over the last 18 months, particularly in school from his maths and English."

The Rossmar School pupil also attends the Irish Astronomical Association meetings which take place at Queen's University.

"We would never have been able to get him to sit in the cinema, but now he sits and listens to lectures because he's so fixated on the subject," Caroline added.

Dr Shaw, a lecturer on a space studies programme at Cork Institute of Technology, described the flight where she will display Hayden's painting.

"These are special planes that simulate weightlessness so every couple of minutes you are free-falling," she said.

"I'll take Hayden's painting with me and I'll take footage of it flying and free falling."

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