Raising awareness of autism is helping us cope with Daniel's death, says Bradley family

 The Bradley family and eight-year-old Daniel, who died in September
By Mairead Holland

A Co Derry family whose young son died after being struck by a car have told of the "amazing" support they have received since his death as they plan a major charity fundraiser in his memory.

James Bradley and his wife Janice are still struggling to make sense of the loss of eight year-old Daniel - but are taking comfort and strength by raising money for two charities in his memory.

Daniel, from Maghera, died on September 20 after being struck by a car on the Glenshane Road.

Affectionately known as 'Dan the Man', he was a pupil at Kilronan School in Magherafelt, which caters for children with special needs.

Before Daniel's tragic death, his parents had been very vocal in raising awareness of autism - with their motto being 'different is not less' - and they remain just as committed to that.

They are raising money for two charities which are very close to their hearts - Assistance Dogs NI and Magherafelt-based Families with Autism Coming Together for Support - with around £9,000 raised so far.

"People locally and all around the world have been sending us money and organising events," Mr Bradley said.

"It started when we asked people to donate money instead of flowers when Daniel died. In the first week we had raised £2,000.

"We have had people in Australia doing skydives, a local barber's have saved all their tips for the past two months, a hotel held a day in Daniel's memory and the football club, Watty Graham's GAC, have just been brilliant.

"There are just too many to name and we are grateful to every single one of them."

There will even be a benefit concert in Nashville next month after a family the Bradleys met in August in the legendary country music capital contacted them after Daniel's death to say they wanted to do something to help.

"It is bittersweet," Mr Bradley said.

Daniel's father posted this video on Facebook the day after his son's death:

"Daniel's death has done more for autism awareness in the past eight weeks than I had fought for in the past eight years.

"The past two months have been very difficult. We still have Ebony, Daniel's assistance dog, and she's therapy for us now too. She's really the last connection with him, and she is just as lost as we are.

"She's there for a hug and a walk and to talk to as well. There's days you are wandering around the house thinking 'how has this happened?'.

"To go from having a special needs child that you are caring for every day to suddenly not having that, it's very hard."

The couple have three other children - Lucy (13), Emily (10) and Katy (7) - and cope by talking about Daniel and making sure he is still part of their lives.

"We can't step away from autism now, just because Daniel isn't here. We have always tried to help other families and to be vocal about autism.

"Janice and myself were Daniel's voice, and it is helping us to keep doing that."

Mr Bradley, a singer/songwriter, who also provides music-based therapy for children with special needs, said that although Daniel couldn't speak, he found his voice through music.

"We would have sat down with the guitar and sung together," he explained. "Losing a child really is the worst nightmare you can imagine and we have had letters from other people who have lost a child.

"The fundraising is letting us give something back, and it's letting families know there is help out there.

"We were at Daniel's school last week - they have a wee memory box for him - and although it was hard because he wasn't there, it was lovely to see the other children and to know we are going to keep helping them."

 Daniel Bradley was a pupil at Kilronan School in Magherafelt

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