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Golden ticket for autistic children

Tuesday, 10th December, 2013 5:50pm
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Golden ticket for autistic children

Gavin and Harry Flood...looking forward to their train trip this weekend.

Golden ticket for autistic children

Gavin and Harry Flood...looking forward to their train trip this weekend.

Almost 350 sought-after golden tickets have been snapped up for a magical Santa steam train journey for children with autism this weekend.

The My Canine Companion Christmas steam train will chug out of Pearse Street station in Dublin this Saturday with hundreds of excited children from all over the country.

During the one and a half hour return trip to Maynooth in Kildare, the children - most of whom are on the autism spectrum - will meet with Santa Claus and have access to a sensory room on the train.

In addition, there will be 17 specially trained working dogs on board which belong to some of the children.

The idea was the brainchild of Trish Flood from Navan, whose two boys, Gavin (5) and Harry (8), both have autism. 

She said: "My children love going on a train but if they have a meltdown, you tend to get funny looks from other parents so I decided to hire a Christmas train especially for children with autism.

"I contacted the Rail Preservation Society of Ireland who run the steam trains and they were delighted to help me."

She added: "The train hire was €6,120 and I thought 'how am I ever going to sell these 340 tickets?' but luckily they were snapped up by families from all over the country, including Belfast and Cork. I even have 27 more families on a reserve list."

As well as covering the cost of the train, proceeds of the €20 tickets will go to My Canine Companion charity which trains dogs to assist children and young adults living with autism. 

In the run-up to the event, helped by other Meath mums Debbie Keyes, Pamela McNab and Carol Lennon, Trish is preparing guidelines for Santa who will give out presents on the train.

"Santa can't suddenly approach the children shouting Ho! Ho! Ho! or we will have carriages of scared children with hands over their ears, screaming!" she said.

She explained: "When children with autism have what we call a meltdown, it is usually a result of the child's senses such as smell, noise, touch being overloaded. A person with autism may react by lashing out, shouting, biting or trying to run away. Generally, people do not understand that this behaviour is not deliberate and is an extreme gut reaction caused by genuine overwhelming fear."

Trish added: "If any child has a meltdown on this train, every parent will understand and we will have a sensory room with calming toys for them to go."

In thanking all the sponsors and everyone for their kind support, she added: "The faces of my own two lit up with delight and excitement when they got their golden tickets so I can't wait to see their reactions and those of the other children next Saturday."

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