World Autism Awareness Day 2014: Boyzone’s Keith Duffy on the challenges of raising his autistic daughter Mia

The Boyzone singer and star of Coronation Street first noticed his daughter was different on a trip to Disneyland

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with and relates to other people.

It’s also a condition that many wrongly assume only affects boys. Not so.

Keith Duffy, Boyzone singer and star of Coronation Street, is a parent to 14-year-old Mia, an autistic teenage girl who was diagnosed with the condition at the early age of 18 months.

To tie in with World Austism Awareness Day, he’s opened up about the challenges that he and his wife Lisa faced raising her.

"A lot of couples break up and there were certain points it was very tough," Duffy, 39, who met Lisa at the start of his Boyzone career aged 19, said of the impact the diagnosis had on their relationship initially.

"Thank God we stuck together, got through hard times and are still together."

They first noticed Mia behaved differently to other children on a trip to Disneyland when she was just one.

 

"Whenever she got excited she’d bend one hand and stretch out the other – which they now know is tensing," he told The Mirror. "She slept very little, didn’t hold eye contact or socialise well.

"She wasn’t responding to her name. We thought she was deaf and took her for tests but they said her hearing was fine – something else might be wrong, but they weren’t qualified to tell us.

"We were distraught – we were young and finding our way, we were worried sick. I could see my wife stressing so I tried to avoid the topic.

"Then I was asked to go to a golfing event for the Red Door School for the education of children with autism. I had no clue what autism was and when it was explained to me that it was a neurological developmental disorder of the brain, and all the symptoms, it became increasingly apparent my daughter was autistic, and I started to get very upset."

Duffy went home and shared his suspicions with his wife, Lisa.

(from left) Keith Duffy, Ronan Keating, Mikey Graham and Shane Lynch of Boyzone perform on ITV’s anniversary special "She could see I’d been crying and she panicked. I just said ‘Mia is autistic’ and her initial reaction was to slap me. Then she burst into tears because we knew there was something, we just didn’t have a name for it – now we did and it made it real."

He goes on to describe feeling lost and confused, with few services offering help to parents in search of a diagnosis in Ireland. Instead, they opted for a private doctor, who confirmed what they had long suspected.

"My wife never smoked or drank when pregnant, she’s very healthy but she blamed herself and what she could have done differently when she was pregnant.

"But it wasn’t her fault – nobody knows how autism originated.

"Autism is an epidemic (sic) – one in 88 children has autism in Ireland but ABA schooling didn’t exist in Ireland. I met another father of a child with autism who was fighting the State to open a school to provide the appropriate education.

"So I joined forces with him and we eventually managed to get enough funding so 18 kids, including Mia, got in. It meant she was getting intensive intervention on a one-to-one scale."

Mia attended the school from the age of two until seven, and was later integrated into a mainstream school.

She’s now a 14-year-old girl who has come to terms with the different way in which she processes information and interacts with others.

Boyzone band member Keith Duffy played lovable Irish rogue Ciaran in Coronation Street. "This upsets her from time to time," Duffy continued. "Socially she still enjoys being on her own, and her friends are growing up a lot quicker than her emotionally. They all go to the shopping mall on a Friday evening in a short skirt and make-up to find boys and Mia’s not in to that at all.

"I’m glad about that but I’m not – you want your kids to enjoy life and be confident and independent. She still does tensing occasionally if she gets excited, which she acknowledges, and I’ll tell her to stop if we’re in company because she needs to know how to behave appropriately around others."

Duffy has, since his daughter’s diagnosis, dedicated a large portion of his time to raising money for the Irish Autism Action (IAA), which he believes have had some success in changing attitudes towards the condition.

"The movie Rain Man sent the wrong message completely so the initial battle we had was undoing the bad work that had been done.

"We had to re-educate people about what autism is, so they can help people like me and other parents with autistic kids, rather than frown.

"We want to give every child with autism an opportunity of reaching their own full potential, whatever that may be."

For details of all events happening on World Autism Day, or for more information on autism,  visit Autism.org.uk.  



Read More: Boyzone's Appearance On Sport Relief Obscured
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Multiple Apprentices Required

£6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Apprentices are required to join a privat...

Sauce Recruitment: HR Manager

£40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: This is an exciting opportunity for a HR...

Ashdown Group: Interim HR Manager - 3 Month FTC - Henley-on-Thames

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established organisation oper...

Recruitment Genius: HR Advisor

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our Client has been the leader ...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us