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Clare family reunites autistic girl with beloved doll that washed out to sea

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AN EIGHT-year-old girl who was left suffering anxiety attacks after seeing her beloved doll being swept out to sea has been reunited with her favourite toy thanks to the efforts of the online Clare community.

Julia Pennekamp from Ballyvaughan, who has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as well as cerebral palsy due to a stroke that her mother sustained during pregnancy, was bereft when her beloved toy doll was washed out to sea at Bishop’s Quarter, at the end of June.

Always an anxious girl, Julia’s mother Nicole tells The Clare Echo about the troubling trigger that the loss of Tiny initiated as well as the benevolence shown by the people of Clare in offering a viable alternative and helping Julia regain her confidence with the eventual return of her most favoured companion.

Nicole explained, “We were down at Bishop’s Quarter and it was an amazing day. Julia was in the water splashing around. She threw the doll in the air, it dropped into the water and the stream washed her out into the sea. It probably wouldn’t have been as bad, but she saw it unfold right in front of her eyes and she had no control over it. I had no control over it. That triggered something.”

She continued, “Ever since she has suffered with anxiety attacks. Every time she would see the bathwater going out of the bathtub or seeing the water run in the sink, that would trigger super anxiety in her. We were unable to go to the beach. We went on a holiday this summer to Kerry. I went to the beach with her. She tensed up and absolutely wouldn’t have it. In the caravan, she was telling me that she just doesn’t like the sea anymore, she doesn’t like the beach and doesn’t want to be near it.”

Nicole, bearing her daughter’s astute sensibilities in mind, decided that she had to take decisive action. After putting up a post on the Facebook Group ‘Clare Free to A Good Home’, Nicole recalls being inundated with messages of support for her daughter and their plight. The post garnered over 1,000 likes. A woman by the name of Diane Clohessy reached out to Nicole, informing her that her own daughter, a 6 year old said, “Oh Mommy, I have one of those dolls, I want that girl to have my doll.” Nicole recalls being ingratiated by this gesture of kindness.

After receiving the doll, identical to the one Julia had lost to the sea, Nicole’s next task was to coincidentally land it at her daughter’s feet.

“We got the doll, which had the wrong bow on its head. I had to cut it off. My friend Thomas works in the local coastguard. He is a fisherman as well. I asked him, if he would be able, next time he goes fishing to bring the doll back for Julia.

“At our house, we can see his boat when he goes fishing. On the Sunday I said to her, ‘look at his boat there, fishing behind Crab Island.’ This would make sense to her and make it more believable. When he returned, he showed it to her. The doll was full of seaweed. In the beginning, she was very shy and didn’t really believe that it was her doll. Eventually, she gave in and it was funny to watch her reaction. Once I cleaned off the doll, her anxiety started to go away. She is so happy now and she keeps telling people, ‘Mother nature brought my doll back. Now I can go to the beach again.’

Julia and her doll, Tiny, were reunited after two and a half months. Her mother Nicole is delighted that her daughter has been able to subdue her anxiety, having been deeply saddened by the lack of control felt when the doll first disappeared.

In a final thank you to the Clare community, Nicole professes, “It has meant the world to me that Diane got in touch with me. There were a few others that offered dolls and sent photos, I wish I could name them all. It was just the immense support shown. People are great, Clare is great. I am over the moon. From now on, we do not bring dolls to the beach, just beach toys.”

An avid reader from a young age, Cian’s love of the archives has been shared by Clare Echo readers who enjoy his Reeling in The Years section. Charles Dickens, Terry Pratchett and Michael Crichton were his favourites writers in his younger years while he was always a fan of studying the opinion columns in The Irish Independent. A past pupil of Lissycasey National School and St Flannan’s College, he is currently completing his final year studies at the University of Limerick in New Media and English. From September, he will be commencing a Masters Degree in Journalism at UL.

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