The Dog Who Helped Set Daniel Free; Molly Is a Lovely Golden Labrador Who Any Family Would Cherish, but for Vivienne Doyle-Quinn, She Is a Godsend. the Former Miss Ireland Tells How Her Autistic Son's Life Was Turned around by His New Companion

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Byline: by Nicola Byrne

The first time that former Miss Ireland Vivienne Doyle-Quinn realised something wasn't quite right with her first-born child, Daniel, was when he was just six days old.

'I was breastfeeding him and, like lots of new mothers, I was finding it hard,' she says.

'I remember looking down at his little face and watching him trying to swallow and he couldn't, and I knew something wasn't right with him.' Vivienne and her husband of just over a year at the time, Aer Lingus captain Kevin Doyle, immediately brought Daniel back to Rotunda hospital, where he'd been born days earlier.

'They checked Daniel out and told me he was fine and there was nothing to worry about,' she says. 'With the greatest respect to them, how could they have known any different at the time? he was so young, he wouldn't display real symptoms until he was quite a bit older.

'But a mother's instinct is hard to ignore. I'd say to anyone now in a similar position to trust their gut feeling. What I saw that day with my little boy were the first signs of dyspraxia, the muscles around his throat and mouth were weak and later he'd have difficulty forming words.' In fact Daniel, now aged six, was finally diagnosed with autism and dyspraxia just last year. Dyspraxia is a difficulty with thinking out, planning and carrying out sensory or motor tasks. Children with the condition have difficulty with movement and specific aspects of learning.

Autism, which is closely associated with it, is a range of complex neurodevelopment disorders, characterised by social impairments, communication difficulties, and restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviour.

For Vivienne and Kevin, by then also the parents of another little girl and boy, the diagnosis bore out all their earlier anxieties and worries about Daniel, but it also provided a starting point to move forwards.

'In some ways, it was a relief, like a big jigsaw puzzle finally fitting together. everything made sense. All his little behavioural quirks, we could understand why. early diagnosis is key to tackling Daniel's conditions and we feel now we have some knowledge to go out and fight his corner. When you have a child with special needs, you have to keep fighting for them, to get them the things and services they need and deserve.' Last month, Daniel's life was transformed when he became one of the first children in Ireland to receive an autism assistance dog called Molly. Children with autism often have little or no awareness of danger and can be panicked by crowds.

An assistance dog stops them from running away, or out into traffic or other dangers. The dog is also a magnet for other children, which helps break down some of the barriers of what can be an isolating condition.

For Vivienne, the arrival of Molly into the family has made a dramatic difference. These days, the 33-year-old's life is a continuous round of school runs, doctors' appointments, speech therapy sessions and more -- all with three young children in tow.

her husband, who works the transatlantic routes for the national carrier, can be away for up to five days at a time and she manages without any nanny, au pair or creche.

Sometimes, she admits, she looks back on her old life and wonders was that really her? A native of Ballyban in Galway just beside Ballybrit racecourse, she graduated in law before joining Aer Lingus as a cabin crew member.

Working out of Shannon, also on the transatlantic routes, she began to do a spot of parttime modelling for the local grand dame of style, Celia holman Lee.

It was Miss holman Lee who persuaded her, aged 21, to go back to Galway to take part in the regional heats for the Miss Ireland competition. Vivienne says she was genuinely surprised when she won and even more so, when she clinched the 1998 national title, weeks later. A year of exotic travel, glamorous photo shoots and mixing with the great and the good followed. …