12 year-old Donagh O’ Sullivan from Glengarriff, Co. Cork, helps to care for his younger brother Diarmaid, who has special needs. Diarmaid has autism, global developmental delay and Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, and is non-verbal. Diarmaid needs full-time care and is completely dependent on others for all of his needs.
Their mother, Julie O’ Shea, has three other boys, Stephen (19), Feargal (17) and Cathal (14), and while Diarmaid’s other brothers are very helpful to him, she says Donagh is exceptional and will always go the extra mile – staying with Diarmaid for hours, playing with him, tucking him into bed at night, making sure he has his favourite toys and giving up his bed regularly for his brother when he becomes upset. “He seems to know automatically when Diarmaid wants a drink of water, or whether he wants food, whether he needs changing, or if he wants to go to bed”.
There is just 15 months between the two brothers, and Donagh feels this helps their bond. “I think the age, it kind of makes us click more,” he says. “I’d feed him in the morning, at breakfast, as he can’t feed himself. I might get him clothes for school in the morning; make his bed; check him when he goes to sleep,” he describes the ways in which he helps Diarmaid, summing it up as: “Simple stuff like that.”
When Donagh was named Young Carer of the Year 2015, it was not possible for Diarmaid to attend the ceremony on November 11th. Diarmaid was not aware of the award but missed Donagh at home. Julie says: “Feargal was looking after him, but Diarmaid really missed Donagh. They are rarely apart – when Diarmaid goes to school at St Joseph’s, he is gone before Donagh, and back after him, so he never knows that Donagh isn’t there during the day”