Boyzone

Boyzone’s Keith Duffy talks about the autistic girl he’s so proud of and his fight to help all autistic children

When his daughter was diagnosed with autism, Boyzone’s Keith Duffy had to make a tough choice.

He could either hope that his baby girl, Mia, could thrive despite the limited autism services available in their home country of Ireland, or use his determination to give his daughter the best possible chance, coupled with her fame, to fight for better. autism services for Mia and other autistic children.

He chose the latter. And now, more than 20 years after Mia was diagnosed with autism at 18 months old, it’s clear that the singer and actor’s perseverance has paid off. Her daughter, who didn’t start speaking until she was seven, grew stronger and stronger, thanks in large part to Duffy’s tenacious determination. Mia is now 22, in her fourth year of college majoring in business computing, and has just been offered a great job by an American company.

Speaking ahead of World Autism Awareness Day (April 2) and World Autism Acceptance Week (March 28 – April 3), her delighted father, 47, said: “She is doing wonderfully – we are very, very proud of her.

“Mia is very determined. She puts a lot of pressure on herself, but she gets a lot done, and it’s all thanks to proper intervention at the right time in her life, which we had to fight for, but we got there.

Keith and his wife Lisa’s fight began after Mia started showing “funny little traits” as a very young child, such as reaching out and shaking vigorously, and lining up all of her toys on the floor. The couple already had a son, Jay, who is nearly four years older than Mia, and had never seen this kind of behavior before.

“She was doing all sorts of things that were foreign to us and we thought there was something wrong,” Keith recalled. “Someone suggested autism, but we had no idea what autism was at the time – we had no education about it and we didn’t understand it.”

The Duffys quickly discovered that there was a waiting list of at least three years for an autism diagnosis in Ireland. “Without an official diagnosis, we couldn’t get the services she might need,” says Keith, “and everyone we spoke to who knew about it said early detection was critical for the future of the child.

“We were very distraught and upset at the time, as you can imagine – we didn’t know where we were going or who to talk to. Getting the diagnosis as soon as possible was my mission.

After “pulling the strings”, they finally got Mia diagnosed, and Keith sadly recalls, “It was not long after that I realized that the services Mia might need were definitely not available. , even with the diagnosis.In fact, services in Ireland at the time for children on the spectrum were pretty much a disaster.

“So we realized that if we wanted anything for our child, we pretty much had to provide the services ourselves.”

Keith Duffy with his wife Lisa and their children Mia and Jay (Keith Duffy/ PA)

And that’s where Keith and his wife’s mission to help their daughter and other children with autism really began. He and Lisa contacted other parents who had children with autism “and who had no idea what the future held for them either”, and did extensive research to learn about the condition and the services available. .

Keith even took a sabbatical from his career to go to an autism center in the United States to learn how to homeschool autistic children through a form of education called ABA – Applied Behavior Analysis.

He also started a charity, Irish Autism Action, for children with autism in Ireland and their families, successfully lobbied the Irish government to open a school that provided appropriate education and interventions for children with autism , which Mia eventually dated, and many years later as well. launched the Keith Duffy Foundation (keithduffyfoundation.ie)which supports a number of children’s charities.

Keith is “very, very proud” of his daughter Mia (Keith Duffy/ PA)

Keith has maintained his charity work even though his daughter is now a successful independent woman, and he’s also been busy with Boyzlife, a “supergroup” he formed with Westlife’s Brian McFadden. The couple have just completed their first studio album together, which will be released in May.

“We’re really busy promoting the album, there’s a big tour coming up next September, and we kind of have a new lease on life,” Keith says happily. “Here we are, 28 years after we started in the music industry, and we’re starting to start doing the same things over again, and we have a great audience, even if they’re not 14 or 15 years old. age more.

“Our audiences are more 40s and 50s now, but as long as we have an audience to play with, we’re doing what we love to do, and it’s all good.”

So how does he find time for charity besides being a pop star?

“You find time, you put it in while you can,” he says. “I’m still working, helping various charities. I have my own foundation here, but I do joint ventures with other charities, putting my name and reputation front and center to create funds.

“I have a lot to be grateful for. I have a beautiful daughter who is very, very happy – as a human being, she’s one of the most beautiful people ever.

“People talk about children with disabilities, but at the same time they have a lot of abilities, so we always try to make something positive out of them. They’re children, they didn’t choose to be autistic – they have so many qualities, so many abilities.

“Every child is completely different – they can’t just be pigeonholed, they are all individual human beings, and they should be treated as such.”

He adds: “It is possible that other people have a child without seeing the wood for the trees and without seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, but my story is very positive, and if I can help someone else to feel positive about his journey, or even to guide him in the right direction, so I’m very, very happy to do that.

“You need determination, lots of love, patience and drive, but there’s a huge light at the end of the tunnel if you’re willing to give your child what they need and deserve. .”

Keith Duffy supports a ZURU Toys (zuru.com) campaign to encourage neurotypical and neurodiverse children to thrive playing with toys, after research for the ZURU Imagination Index found that 70% of parents of a neurodiverse child use play and toys as a key way to discuss their differences and understand the ever-changing world around them.