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My heartache and joy with autistic daughter; KEITH DUFFY TELLS OF HIS FAMILY'S STRUGGLE.

Byline: DECLAN FAHY

DOTING dad Keith Duffy told yesterday of the heartache and joy in raising an autistic daughter.

The Coronation Street star revealed that he and his wife Lisa were shocked when Mia, three, was diagnosed a year ago.

Keith, 29, said he and his wife kept working so that their beloved little girl would be able to lead an independent life.

He told the Irish Mirror: "Every day is another shock, another obstacle. It's absolutely heartbreaking.

"My wife and I left hospital with a baby who was healthy and well and two years later we found out and didn't know what to do.

"My daughter is not speaking yet. She expresses herself in other ways, in hugs and kisses, but it's hard when you see kids half her age chatting to parents.

"She's a very, very happy little girl in her own little world."

Duffy was speaking as Health Minister Brian Lenihan opened an extension for autistic kids at his daughter's school, Scoil Eoin, in Kilbarrack, Dublin.

Little Mia was born in Dublin's Holles Street Hospital after a difficult pregnancy for Lisa, 30.

He said: "I first thought 'where do I get the antibiotic that will sort that out' but I didn't know she would have it for the rest of her life.

"I didn't know anything about autism, just Rain Man or movies like that, but it's not like that at all. It takes a long time to sink in."

Keith said it was hard to get good professional help for Mia.

He explained: "It was an uphill battle all the way. We were lucky that we could go private but a lot of people are not that fortunate. You do it because you love your kid."

Autism is a psychiatric disorder of childhood where the child has problems communicating and socially interacting.

Often autistic people have preoccupations with fantasy and behaviour abnormally.

Keith and Lisa also have a six-year-old son Jordan who adores his little sister. Keith said: "He absolutely idolises her, but he gets frustrated at her not speaking too.

"But he does everything he can to love her, protect her and look after her." Duffy admitted it can be hard on his family when he is filming Coronation Street in Manchester.

He said: "It's very difficult on my wife. And when you have an autistic child it's important to remember the siblings.

"Jordan is a soft, passionate little fella and he misses me when I'm away at work.

"Lisa's parents move to our house in St Margaret's when I'm away to help."

Lisa's mother, Ita Smith and her husband William who live in Glasnevin, dote on the children.

Ita said yesterday: "Mia is an absolute pleasure. I've read every book on autism and she seems to contravene everything.

"She's never allowed to sit and go into her own world. She's into Barney the Dinosaur, songs, food, eating and drinking. She is very special. I understand her. If she wants something, I know."

Scoil Eoin has 24 autistic students - and 24 teachers providing specialised one-to-one tuition.

There are a further 30 children on the school's waiting list.

WORRIED parents whose child has been diagnosed with the condition can ring autism link on: 01-8531000.

CAPTION(S):

SMILES: Keith, Health Minister Brian Lenihan, far right and board member and parent Cormac Rennick join fun with Mia, Enda and Anne Marie and Aoife; DOTING DAD: Keith brings little Mia to school yesterday at opening of new extension for autistic children
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Mar 15, 2003
Words:582
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