Loving mother Nicole Duggan set up a blog to help raise awareness for autism and document her journey with her four-year-old little boy Riley and she now has a huge following.
From the personal blog to creating Snapchat account for her campaign Through Their Eyes (snapchat name: thrutheireyes) for this year’s Autism Awareness Week the mother has been an inspirational figure to the community.
We spoke to the Cork mother behind My Boy Blue to hear her own personal journey with her son and how she hopes that by speaking out it can help change people’s perspective and knowledge of autism.
Nicole hopes that her blog and campaign will help teach people about children and adults with autism.
She said: “I set it up more than anything else to teach people. I think there is this ignorance when it comes to autism.
“We’ve been put into situations where people don’t understand what is going on with Riley. They just think that he is a bold child and I think I wanted to try reduce that idea more than anything else.”
Since starting her blog on Facebook and gaining over 22,000 followers, the devoted Cork mother has helped each over 2.1 million people with her video for campaign, Through Their Eyes.
She said: “It started off as something so small and now it is after blowing up. It’s mental at the moment and every time that I look at my phone I am like ‘oh my god’ because I just keep getting messages.
“It’s outragous. We are raising money with the campaign, but we all think that the money comes second. It’s changing people’s perspective that comes first and everyone involved has the same goal everyday to try and make our kid’s lives better.
“I hope to keep it going as an awareness Snapchat and if anyone wants to come on and share their story that they can whenever.”
Over the course of this week, the Snapchat account will be taken over by 35 speakers from SNAs, therapists, parents and siblings of those with autism to tell their story and hope to raise awareness on the stigma surrounding autism.
Nicole said it was little things that she started to notice that made her take Riley to get checked out.
She said: “I noticed things as he started growing up -like he would never clap his hands, he never waved bye bye and his eye contact would have been very bad.
“But he had speech up until he was about 17 months and then at 17 months he lost all of his speech. He lost all of his words – he completely went silent on us and that was a major tell tale sign so we went to doctor.”
She added: “We were told that we have four weeks to see what words we could get back and in that four weeks we got back ‘Mom’ and then it just disappeared again.
“He’s now nearly 4 and a half years old and he has no speech. So he is completely non verbal so he started to learn some sign language so that is really good. He gets really frustrated that he cannot actually communicate with you.
“He is very good in the sense that he understands what you’re saying to him and he knows what he actually wants to say but he just cannot get his words out.”
While little Riley cannot talk, Nicole said that he is very affectionate and his personality brightens up a room.
She said: “With me and Riley he cannot talk but he is the funniest child in the world.
“He has a personality and a lot of people think that kids that have autism cannot connect with people and they cannot interact with other people, but if you sit in a room with Riley he will make the whole room laugh without talking.
“He just has a little personality that is just amazing. He wants to be able to communicate with people and it’s lovely to be able to see that.”
She added: “But I think people have a preconception that people with autism don’t want to interact and they cannot give affection but they’re wrong. he loves coming over and giving me hugs and kisses so he is very affectionate. How loving he is, he cannot say the words but he can express it in another way.”
As a mother, the Cork native wants to best for her child and found it hard to deal with his diagnoises.
“I think that at the start, the first day that someone mentioned autism to me, my own doctor I literally went home and cried for three-days straight. I thought there was no way, maybe he is just being lazy,” Nicole said.
“It is very hard to hear about your child I think because obviously you never want anything to be wrong with them. The fight to get a diagnosis is horrendeous.
“What should have taken six months with him took 18 months to get him diagnosed and it was the worst 18 months ever – because he obviously is non verbal he cannot go to mainstream schools so I was in the predicament that I couldn’t get him into a playschool or anything like that.
“So I think I threw myself into a fight that way that I blocked out my own feelings. And it wasn’t until last year before Christmas that it really hit me and when it hits you then it’s so hard.”
Riley is making a massive improvement in being able to communicate thanks to private therapy and learning sign language.
The inspirational mother said: “I think as a Mom it is heartbreaking because all you want is to hear his little voice and you want to have those conversations with him when he comes home from school and how he got on with his friends but we cannot do any of that.
“You have a thing in your head that this is how life is going to be and then it’s all completely turned upside down but I think now I’m in a place that I think it’s only a part of him and we’ll get there.”
Nicole gave this advice to other parents with autistic children: “The major thing that I always say is that even when you do get the diagnosis that you kind of put yourself down a lot but there’s still going to be that child that you knew before you got that piece of paper.
“With Riley, he never changed because this is the way he has always been. But I think that in your own head you think that everything is going to change and they’re still going to be the same child and they’re still going to be as amazing as they were before you walked into the room.
“I think the major thing that people realise it is ok to say that, the more you bottle it up the harder it gets because you end up fooling yourself. It’s a constant battle it really is.”
“As a mother of course you’re going to do everything in the world to be able to understand him but I just think that’s the frightening thing for me when it comes to other people.”
She added: “What’s going to happen if he never does talk? Will he be able to be independent and will he be able to get a job and do all these kinds of things? It’s heartbreaking to actually sit and think about it.”
The Irish mother hopes that speaking out about her own personal experience with her son will help beat the stigma surrounding those with autism.
She said: “I set it up for him. I think if we can raise more awareness with things like the blog or the campaign, in future years it’s going to make things easier for our kids and I always say kids never judge it’s the adults that judge.
“If we can teach the smaller kids growing up that disabilities aren’t weird and they’re not bad thing, that in future years that the kids who are diagnosed won’t have to face that prejudice so I think that drives me.”
You can follow Nicole’s blog here and follow the Through Their Eyes campaign by adding: thrutheireyes on Snapchat.