Northern Ireland news

Joyous Daniel's memory lives on with birthday parties for autistic children

Just five months after the tragic death of their eight-year-old son, a Co Derry family are keeping little 'Dan the Man's' memory alive with what they hope will be a joyful event for autistic children. Health Correspondent, Seanín Graham reports

Daniel Bradley died in September last year 
Seanín Graham

DANIEL Bradley was the centre of his family.

The fun-loving Maghera schoolboy, who adored singing, making home videos and playing with his sisters, was also autistic and non-verbal.

When he died on September 20 last year after being struck by a car in a tragic accident, the Bradleys coped with their colossal loss by continuing in their drive to raise awareness about autism - their motto being 'different is not less'.

One of Daniel's favourite events were birthday parties - but he was never invited to any outside his family.

"We fought for eight years to raise awareness and during our mourning we've been given a platform to say what we wanted to say - we've been blown away by the response, it's a complete blanket of love with messages of support, respect and kindness," said Daniel's father, James.

A rural peer-to-peer support group attended by the Bradleys, known as F.A.C.T.S (Families with Autism Coming Together), is planning to roll out a new project that will allow autistic children and their siblings to enjoy fun birthday parties - in tribute to 'Dan the Man' as he was affectionately known.

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Backed by the Northern health trust, James and Janice Bradley say it will be a fitting legacy to their son.

"Daniel just loved birthdays. We think this is a fantastic idea as a lot of kids' parties are in leisure centres where there is a lot of noise and hustle and bustle - it is chaos sometimes," Mr Bradley said.

"The group want to have parties with an autism friendly atmosphere, a more calming atmosphere to give other kids a chance to come along. They don't have to play with the other children, it's just somewhere where they can go and celebrate.

"These events will also be for their siblings, as having an autistic brother or sister can be very isolating sometimes - it can be quite lonely."

The couple have three other children - Lucy (14), Emily (10) and Katy (7) - and cope by talking about Daniel and making sure he is still part of their lives.

Their daughters are going to play an active role in their brother's birthday fund as they want to volunteer and help other siblings. The family will also be involved in the organising committee.

Mary Margaret Love, community fundraiser and honorary president of F.A.C.T.S said the parties will have a dual purpose.

"Children with autism will be invited to a birthday and this will reduce their isolation and create a sense of belonging. But it will also develop their social skills, having fun in a safe, supportive environment...that way, no child feels left out," she said.

Since Daniel's passing, more than £10,000 has been raised for two charities close to the family's heart - Assistance Dogs NI and F.A.C.T.S, which is based in Magherafelt.

Skydives in Australia and a benefit concert in Nashville have been among the fundraising events as well those closer to home - with Watty Graham's GAC and a local barbers contributing.

"What happened to us is every parent's worst nightmare...but the support - every message, every card, every phonecall has meant so much," Mr Bradley added.

"We were Daniel's voice and we will continue to be his voice. There was so much love and care around him, he was very much the centre of the family."

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