Crystal Swing star Dervla Burke O’Connor has opened up about life with her severely autistic child as she pleads for support for her and other families in Cork.
The Cork mother said she is on her knees “begging every day” for help but “no one is listening” to her and other parents plight.
Speaking to RedFM’s Neil Prendeville, she said it is “frightening” the lack of services in Cork for children with autism.
“There are special schools, called units, which are attached to mainstream schools that cater for children with autism, but unfortunately Paul has gone past that now,” she explained.
“What he will need going forward is a special school.”
Dervla said there is a very broad spectrum when it comes to autism, her 5-year-old Paul is “very, very severe.”
“He is the light of our lives and we absolutely adore him, but life with Paul is very, very difficult,” she told Prendeville on his morning show on the Cork station.
Dervla and her husband Tim O’Connor are currently facing “a huge battle” to ensure their son gets the services that he needs, but while they have “all the necessary reports and documentation” showing why Paul needs a special school, unfortunately, they have not been able to secure a spot in one.
The Midleton mother, who had to give up on her dream of a singing career because she is Paul’s full-time carer, also spoke emotionally about the daily struggles she, her husband and their youngest Hannah face.
“I'm finding it increasingly difficult to look after him because he is non-verbal and cannot communicate his needs to us. He has a lot of frustration inside his body, so he lashes out a lot and he hits out a lot.
“It's through no fault of his own,” she said, “but everything in our home has been damaged.
“He’s broken screens, many televisions, pulled down curtain rails, he’s constantly on kitchen tables, countertops, it’s a miracle he’s not caused damaged to his brain from falling.”
“All mirrors and glass have had to be taken down for his safety.
“He’s snapped every clothes hanger in the house. He chews on things on a continuous basis... he’ll chew on things like electrical cables. It’s a big worry.”
Dervla also spoke of how her younger daughter Hannah is impacted by her brother’s condition, explaining that she has “no toys left” due to Paul destroying them, and has unfortunately also been hit by her brother and doesn’t fully understand it is not his fault.
“When he grows older he will become a danger to others,” she said.
Asked whether she was feeling “very down,” Dervla admitted she cries a lot.
“I feel no one is listening. I am on my knees begging every day for help, support, services...
“The other day I was walking down the street in Midleton and was asked how I was getting on and just started bawling crying on the street.”
Dervla said she is “appalled” at how her family and others are being treated and made an impassioned plea for Paul and other children with autism.
“My child deserves an education. All of these children do, they deserve dignity, respect, it is a constitutional right.
“Even though Paul has very complex needs, he has intelligence inside of him, and I know a special school would be the key to unlocking it.”