In association with officialkeithduffy.com
Keith first became involved in working with autism charities, when at 18 months, his daughter, Mia was diagnosed with the disorder.
Keith and his wife, Lisa noticed something wrong in their daughter early on when she wouldn't respond to them. Initially, they thought Mia was deaf but tests proved that her hearing was fine. However, they knew something wasn't right as she didn't like going outside of the house and when she did she would hold a blanket over head, seemingly afraid of the noise. Mia had also developed obsessive compulsion for structure and symmetry, for example, arranging their CD collection in a straight line across the kitchen floor. And most heartbreakingly of all, she wouldn't return her parents' or brother's affection.
Speaking to a friend at an autism charity event he'd been asked to attend, it became more apparent to Keith that, that was Mia had. That day he describes as the worst day of his life. Looking for an official diagnosis, they discovered it could take up to two years to get one. Seeking help privately, a specialist confirmed that Mia was autistic but after that, the couple felt alone and helpless, not sure where to go next.
Pure frustration at the lack of help for autistic children lead him into charity work, eventually becoming the patron of Irish Autism Action (IAA). Discovering there was only one approriate school for Mia in Ireland - with only twelve places, all of them full and a waiting list as long - Keith and other parents set about fundraising to change that. They raised enough money to employ more teachers and allow more children - including Mia - into the school
The school - ABACAS in Kilbarrack, Dublin - uses a method of one-to-one teaching called Applied Behavioural Analysis, (ABA) and with that teaching, Mia came on leaps and bounds, eventually going to mainstream school in 2007.
Over the years of working with the IAA, Keith has raised over 4 million Euros, they have since set up a diagnostic centre (The Solas Centre) and they have 13 schools around Ireland educating 400 children. A 24 hour helpline has also been set up. In 2008 Keith won a people of the year award for his work with the charity. He continually sets himself challenges to raise more money & awareness; including marathons, a trek in Peru & the ironman.
Keith has also taken his fight to the UK, teaming up with The National Autistic society, 'Talk about Autism' and 'Ambitious about Autism.'
The latest Charity he has teamed up with is Hearts & Minds Challenge
Keith continues to be passionate about the cause, believing all children deserve the best start in life and the key to that is early intervention and appropriate education. Raising awareness is paramount until the right people sit up and listen and each child's (and their families') needs are met.
Written & Researched by Leonie Stevens
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