Irish autism awareness advocate Nicole Duggan has launched a campaign to get autistic children the education they deserve.
Irish autism awareness advocate Nicole Duggan has launched 'I Matter' campaign to get autistic children the education they deserve.
Recently, Nicole wrote an open letter addressed to the Minister for Education, Joe McHugh, on behalf of her five-year-old boy, Riley, who is due to start primary school in September but there are currently no places available.
Last month, Nicole, who won Influencer of the Year in the Beauty Blog Awards, started a petition that she plans to bring forward to the Minister for Education, Minister for Disabilities and Taoiseach. To date, the petition has received over 28,000 signatures.
Like many others, the single mum-of-one believes "all children have a right to education" and "all children have a right to a school place".
Nicole wants the whole school system for autistic children revamped. She wants equality for all children.
In a powerful post on her Facebook page, My Boy Blue, Nicole said: "My name is Riley Duggan. I am 5 years old. I love buses, trains and playing shop. Dogs are my favourite animal, and I love chocolate."
"You are probably wondering why a small boy like me is writing to a big man like you. But I have a lot to tell you.
"You see Mr Minister, I am a little different. When I was 2 years old I was diagnosed with autism. My mom tells me it just makes me even more amazing. It's like a superpower. But it makes me different from other boys and girls.
"Did you know I cannot talk? My voice just doesn't work yet. But that does not mean I don't have anything to say.
"I find everyday things hard to deal with, things that you probably don't notice, but that doesn't mean I don't try. I promise I do.
"I have a special dog, who keeps me safe because sometimes I like to run away. My mom says I am really fast, but I think she just needs to speed up.
"My mom always tells me I am amazing, but I am just like any other little boy. Yes, I am different, but who says different is bad?
"I hear you have a big job. My mom says it is really big. Well, I want to tell you something.
"I love school. I love to see my friends. I love my teacher and my SNA's. I love sitting at my desk and doing my work.
"I wish I didn't have to leave my school in June but they tell me I'm a big boy now and I need to go to big boy school. It sounds kind of cool.
"My mom has told me I need to go to a special class because I am autistic.
"A class with less boys and girls. And more help for me, because school can be hard for me. She says I need special rooms for when I have a meltdown.
"I need somewhere to calm down. I need a bit more help you see.
"But guess what? There are no classes for me to go to!!! They are all full. Isn't that crazy, Joe? Can I call you, Joe? Please?
"I am sad. I want to go to school. I want to learn. I want to make friends. I want to be like every other little boy and girl. I want to go to big school like the big boys! I want you to know I Matter. I am autistic but I am still a little boy.
"I want to grow up and have a big job like you someday. Who knows I might even take your job!
"I might not have found my voice yet, but I want to be heard. I matter! Please remember that!
"My mom says she will not stop until there is a change. For all the boys and girls just like me, who have superpowers.
"Please be the man who helps her. Please be the man who believes in me and my friends. Please be the man who believes that I Matter.
"Hopefully I will get to meet you someday. If you are lucky I might even teach you some sign language.
"Please help me go to school. And my friends too. Riley."
You can sign Nicole's petition HEREor show your support across social media using the hashtag #imatter.
Kellie Kearney is a Dublin mammy of kids aged 2, 3, 4 and 8. A self-confessed procrastinator and picker-upper of things, Kellie's love include coffee, doughnuts, travel and sharing every day true to life moments on Instagram of her expanding family. Follow her on Instagram.