THE AUTISTIC son of Health Minister James Reilly has spoken of his struggles to overcome his disability throughout his education.
Jamie Reilly (26), who was non-verbal until the age of three and assessed as having an IQ in the mentally disabled range, has just completed his Masters in biotechnology at Queen's University in Belfast.
He will begin a PhD in genetics in September at NUI, Galway. Speaking at an international conference on autism at the Galway college, the young academic urged people not to set limits for their children.
Jamie was diagnosed with autism at three. He revealed it was difficult to get a diagnosis because "there was a reluctance to give it a label".
He told of his difficulties in overcoming aspects of his condition, including an obsession with water from the age of 18 months, which led to him flooding the family home on occasions. As a child, Jamie revealed he had a "very rigid" disposition that left him wanting structure around meals and clothes.
"My eye contact was nearly non-existent and I had little interest in people," he said.
His mum Dorothy spoke of his tendency to hand clap, constantly spit, rote-repeat lists and bang his head against walls and doors.
The family helped him through music therapy, observation and constant encouragement and guidance.
His ability to absorb knowledge gave him a thirst for study.
"I could devour a book and would be able to recall most of the knowledge from it," he said.
After attending a special school in his early childhood, Jamie started mainstream education at 11.
He achieved 525 points in his Leaving Cert before studying science and genetics at Trinity and biotechnology at Queen's.
He praised the support of his school principal and family in helping him to make the most of his education.
He also praised his occupational therapist at Trinity, who showed him how to set goals for each week, manage time spent on activities and provide exercises to relieve stress.
During his time studying in Belfast, Jamie found himself completely on his own.
"I had to organise my own affairs, food, travel, paying for accommodation, bills and make sure I could keep up with the great workload," he said.
"Parents with children on the spectrum put much time and effort into helping them in the hope they will emerge from their condition," he said, before adding that it was hard on children and left parents feeling burnt out and despairing.
Instead he urged parents to encourage and maximise their child's interests when it came to their education.
"Most important of all, never set a limit on your child because you never know, they could surprise you," he added.