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Ailís’s Story

In 2017, Helium Arts’ Pop Up Picnic visited family homes in Kildare, bringing a sprinkling of joy, creativity and play to young children with complex needs. One of those children was Ailís, who was born with a rare genetic disorder and has both complex intellectual and physical needs. Through the project, Ailís had the opportunity to enjoy multi-sensory performances while bonding with her mother, Eithne.

Eithne recalled how it was a touching experience to see her daughter come out of her shell and become more comfortable with the performances and activities.

“I think it has all brought her out of herself and her engagement and her eye contact.”

Eithne and Ailís taking part in Pop Up Picnic in 2018.

Ailís was able to develop and flourish over the course of the project, becoming more curious and playful with each visit from the Pop Up Picnic team. During their first visit, she was quick to shy away from Niamh (performer) and Thomas (musician), keeping an eye on them but not really interacting. As she became increasingly more familiar with the experience, she began to properly engage in the activities and delight in all of the rich tastes, textures, scents, sights, and sounds that the picnic has to offer.


After several months of participation, Eithne was able to look back on Ailís’s progress : 

“Ailís is a different child today to what she was when she started. She didn’t play with anything, she really didn’t engage with anything around her ... She was at a wall, and I just feel the picnic got her over that wall by it’s approach.”

Ailís with her brother and sister enjoying some lentil 'tea' with performer Niamh Lawlor and musician Thomas Johnston in the family home.

One of the key aspects of Pop Up Picnic is the opportunity for the whole family to enjoy the experience with the child. Ailís’s siblings joined in on the fun, which helped them bond and create happy memories with one another. For Eithne, it was great to get to participate in an activity with her daughter rather than worrying about organizing and overseeing everything.

Eithne said she would definitely recommend the project to other families:

“I would say absolutely go for it, absolutely with no hesitation whatsoever. It's just wonderful and for me as a parent to be able to stand back and watch her.”

Ailís, Eithne and Thomas have a little umbrella fun at a Pop Up Picnic rehearsal in 2018.

Eithne has expressed many positive feelings about the experience from a mother’s perspective, reflecting on the ways in which it has helped create a more meaningful relationship with her daughter. The picnic has allowed Eithne to focus on the many wonderful things Ailís can do, instead of the limitations placed on her by her disability. Speaking in a radio interview, Eithne very kindly told listeners:

“What this allowed me to do as a parent was to observe her and to partake and just get the joy. And to actually see what she could do as opposed to focusing on the many things she had difficulties with.”

Zesty oranges! It was wonderful to have Ailís and Eithne join us for a special Pop Up Picnic performance at our Engaging the Senses symposium in 2018.

The individualized attention Ailís received during Pop Up Picnic allowed her to enjoy a theatre experience at her own pace. Having the performances in the home meant that her mum and siblings could relax and take in all the magical elements with Ailís, which added to the special moment. Eithne could tell that her daughter was truly having a wonderful time during the day.