| 12.2°C Dublin

working together 'I love my brother, so if he’s having a bad day I’m not going to leave him'

For Thomas and his sibling Seán, being carers to their 12-year-old brother Liam, born with severe autism and intellectual disability, is a way of life that they embrace.

Close

Thomas says it’s hugely rewarding to care for his brother Liam.

Thomas says it’s hugely rewarding to care for his brother Liam.

Martin with Seán, Thomas, Liam and Geraldine

Martin with Seán, Thomas, Liam and Geraldine

Liam with his trained assistance dog Hector.

Liam with his trained assistance dog Hector.

Liam with Lightning McQueen from Disney’s Cars.

Liam with Lightning McQueen from Disney’s Cars.

/

Thomas says it’s hugely rewarding to care for his brother Liam.

"He's my brother" - that's the simple and moving answer Thomas Flanagan gives when asked about being a carer to his little brother Liam.

For the teenager, providing care to his sibling is a no-brainer, even if others regard it as a remarkable commitment from somebody so young.

For Thomas and his sibling Seán, being carers to their 12-year-old brother Liam, born with severe autism and intellectual disability, is a way of life that they embrace.

Liam needs 24-hour supervision and support and his siblings are among hundreds of young carers in Ireland.

Close

Martin with Seán, Thomas, Liam and Geraldine

Martin with Seán, Thomas, Liam and Geraldine

Martin with Seán, Thomas, Liam and Geraldine

"You don't consider becoming a carer, you just are," said the 18-year-old Leaving Cert student. "It's because he's my brother. He's 12, he's six years younger than me. I love my brother, so if he's having a bad day I'm not going to leave him."

Thomas and Seán, from Finglas in Dublin, are among the many young people who provide care and support to another family member in the home. For Thomas, it involves a great understanding of their sibling's needs and how they can contribute to their quality of life. The two also help look after Liam's assistance dog, Hector.

"Liam can't speak so we use Lámh to communicate. It's a form of sign language, you use your hands but it's not as complex.

Mother

"We also use the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS). These are special cards to help you communicate."

This system involves Liam, who is non-verbal, communicating when to go to the playground and to go home, for example, in conversation with his family.

Along with Seán, mum Geraldine Wymbs and her partner Martin Harte, he helps plan Liam's weekly schedule in advance. Because of the nature of his needs, this is important, he said.

Close

Liam with his trained assistance dog Hector.

Liam with his trained assistance dog Hector.

Liam with his trained assistance dog Hector.

"We do a weekly schedule in advance, because he needs to know what's happening as he needs time to register it. You'd use PECS to say he's going to school, to get ready, for example," says Thomas.

Sunday World Newsletter

Sign up for the latest news and updates

This field is required This field is required

They also enjoy the typical sibling fun and games that are a part of family life. "We sit in his room and watch telly, we play football and go for a walk or out to the shop.

"Liam loves cars, loves watching races. He's a very happy person, you'd rarely see him without a smile on his face. He likes the odd bit of mischief and messing sometimes."

Although he and the rest of the family are greatly committed to supporting Liam in reaching his full potential, Thomas finds this role greatly rewarding.

"It means the world to me to be able to see him happy and relaxed and not stressed if he doesn't have the care and resources he needs. We're very close. It's made me a lot closer to my brother."

Thomas said he would love to see the State provide more services to children with special needs and he added that access to services has been particularly difficult during the pandemic.

"I'd love to see them put up more clubs and more services. Liam goes to a fantastic club called The Meeting Place in Finglas where they do horticultural therapy and horse riding, and they get to care for the horses. But I'm conscious that a lot of children don't have access to services.

"The lockdown has had a real effect on kids with disabilities. Our services have taken a hit because of the lockdown. If he can't go to school that has an impact on him.

"He'd have two carers who take him after school on a Friday. He does woodwork, gardening, home economics, and pottery at school as well as life skills. He had respite services on a Wednesday afternoon and they were badly impacted during lockdown."

Close

Liam with Lightning McQueen from Disney’s Cars.

Liam with Lightning McQueen from Disney’s Cars.

Liam with Lightning McQueen from Disney’s Cars.

Proud mum Geraldine said that Liam is doing well because of the collective efforts of her family, school and support services.

"Thomas and Seán are great. I'm his full-time carer but they have been fantastic. He has a lot of needs but they're always there chipping in with us.

"Liam is starting to say a few words now but a lot of the time the boys know what he wants. He's doing so well because of us, of school, of respite. It's so important to help him progress."

She said it helps that his support and schooling services, St Paul's Special School in Beaumont and St Paul's Child and Family Services, though separate, are in the same grounds. "They have been amazing."

She smiles as she describes her youngest son."Liam is Liam! We call him giggles because he's always up to a little bit of mischief. He loves Disney's Cars and Rachel in The Meeting Place has a great bond with him and all the children."

Geraldine said she would love to see means testing of the Carer's Allowance being removed so that all carers who work full-time with their loved ones didn't have to worry about their livelihood.

Family Carers Ireland work to support and help all carers and have a dedicated Young Carer Support Manager who can be contacted at youngcarers@familycarers.ie.

There's a Freephone Careline 1 800 24 07 24 for information, advice and support.

"We also offer free young carers membership cards for young carers between the age of 10 and 24 which gives access to great discounts and deals but also provides proof of their caring responsibilities for school, college and health professionals," said Catherine Cox, head of communications and carer engagement at Family Carers Ireland.


Download the Sunday World app

Now download the free app for all the latest Sunday World News, Crime, Irish Showbiz and Sport. Available on Apple and Android devices

Sunday World


Privacy