By Rose Barrett
Young Zain Freeman celebrated his ninth birthday earlier this week having clocked up an impressive 50km walk to help his school get a sensory playground.
Along with his mum Orla and Poppy, the family dog, Zain completed the fundraiser in aid of Scoil Aoife National School in Citywest.
“Zain has Autism and an intellectual disability,” Mum Orla told Dublin Gazette. “We live in Tallaght and he attends a fantastic ASD class attached to the mainstream school in Citywest.
“There are two ASD classes catering for six children, but playing in the yard with the mainstream classes can be overwhelming for kids with autism.
“We are fundraising so they can have their own sensory playground – every child deserves a place to have fun, and it will help them with social integration too.
“The playground will cost at least €10,000, and already, Zain’s GoFundMe page has raised over €1,300. We are going to keep the page open for another while yet, even though Zain has long since exceeded his 50km challenge.”
Orla revealed they are blessed with the location of their home in Tallaght, where Zain got great support on his walk with cousins Jonathan, Ciarán and Loughlann.
“At the end of my road at Dodder Valley Park, we can walk all the way down to the Weir at Firhouse, stopping for ice cream each way. It wasn’t a big deal for him as we walk that route often, down to the weir, around the park and back which is 5km.
“Zain is typical of a child with autism, he is very social and a very ‘smiley’ child but doesn’t quite know how to make friends and engage with other children.
“Miss Williams and Miss Cahalane, along with all the staff at Scoil Aoife are wonderful. Over the past 18 months, Zain’s speech has improved.
She continued: “You don’t realise how the simplest of things can prove difficult for children with autism.
“Zain goes to class therapy in Blanchardstown with Jump Autism Support. There he learns how to socialise, how to take turns, to play together.
“He loves his bike and scooter. He typically like to handle things, and tends to fixate on objects to play with, it used to be straws, only green ones – but now it’s plastic bag grips that you use for keeping food fresh.”