A boy with autism whose love of trains helped him learn to speak has had his dreams come true thanks to Southern Rail.
David Elston, ten, was treated to a tour of Lover’s Walk train maintenance depot in Brighton after a staff member spotted a sign at Angmering railway station and arranged the trip.
His mother Donna, 42, said: “It meant the world to us. You have got a rail and a platform in the way normally, so he can’t see the wheels and mechanics of it, or the air conditioning parts at the top.
“It might not be possible for him to work on the trains in later life, but at least he could get up close to them. It was his dream come true.”
David was diagnosed aged three with autistic spectrum disorder, followed by attention deficit hyperactivity disorder at six.
As a result, by the age of five he still could not speak, with doctors unsure if he would ever find his voice.
But hearing the train announcements and learning about the railway kick-started his speech, as can be seen in the video above.
He also has sensory processing disorder, which makes him feel overwhelmed – but travelling on the trains helps to calm him down.
Reading train tickets also helps – so Carol Ritchie, who runs the buffet at Angmering railway station, put up a sign asking for customers to donate their old tickets.
Now, she gets donations from as far away as Liverpool.
She said: “David is a lovely boy. To see him smile when l give him the tickets is amazing. It lights up my day.”
She said she contacted Ryan Bower, production leader at the Lover’s Walk site, and organised the event for him.
David, from Epsom Gardens, Rustington, said he was ‘very, very excited’ when he found out the news.
Ryan said: “Hearing the joy that the railway brings to David every time he travels on our service is inspiring and seeing his reaction made me want to do something that he will always remember.
“There can be so much negativity surrounding the railway and the business of running a service –it seems a shame when historically the railway is an institution and should bring joy.”
Donna wanted to raise awareness about autism, such as her son wearing ear defenders to make his life easier. She said: “I encourage people to ask questions to help them understand what autism actually means rather than stare.”