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
  • Get to the point
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: HR and Payroll Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This dynamic outsourced contact...

Recruitment Genius: Production & Quality Control Assistant

£19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity for a ...

Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor - Kettering - £32,000

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor with an established...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Generalist

£40 - 50k (DOE) + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a HR Manager / HR Genera...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat