Eithne O'Brien tells the story of Darren and Gillian, the parents of twin boys with Autism. She listens to their harrowing story and witnesses the inspiring unconditional love they have for their children, even if it has brought them to the brink.

On last week's Prime Time we covered the issue of school places for Special needs children. The problem had been building up from earlier in the year and had come into sharp focus over the last few weeks as parents of autistic and other special needs kids struggled to get an appropriate - or any - school place for their children. 
As part of my research I spoke to many families but as the week went on the stories became more harrowing. As we prepared to go into editing last Monday I got a call about a family in Dublin who had twin boys with Autism who were going to lose their home as their Dad was missing so much work to help look after them. It was a shocking story but we felt we wouldn’t be able to do it justice in the piece we were just about to put out.

Watch Darren and Gillian's full story on Primetime on the RTÉ Player.

I spoke to Darren, the father of the twins, on the phone and he confirmed the story was pretty much as I had been told it. He was very understanding when I explained that we might not be able to include them in the piece, which, in a way, made me more determined to find a way to tell their story. We had a discussion about it at the editorial meeting and we decided that this story was so powerful that we would do a separate piece, simply telling Darren and Gillian's story.

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"It has broken us as a family..."

We met the Milne/ Bolger family last week at their home in North Dublin and from the moment we stepped out of the van it was all go. The boys never stop; they were in and out of the house each twin running in a different direction. Darren and Gillian their mother tried to talk to us but were constantly interrupted by the boys, Kyle is more active, he gets up at 3am and wants to spend all his time on the trampoline. Ryan is more into spending time indoors on a phone or an ipad. Doing the interview was a challenge as the boys constantly interrupted their parents, pulling them into the kitchen or out onto the trampoline.

With much stopping and starting, Gillian and Darren did manage to tell us their story. In 2017 when they were 6, the boys were offered a place in an autism unit in a local school. Not only are the boys constantly moving, and keeping Gillian and Darren on their toes, they also have complex medical needs. They get infections virtually every week, but are also non-verbal so can’t say when they are unwell. Darren and Gillian made the difficult decision to take the boys out of the school after a few weeks as they felt that the school couldn’t cope with their health needs. That decision has had serious consequences for them. If a parent of a child with special needs turns down what is deemed an appropriate school place they are no longer entitled to a home tuition grant which would pay for a tutor to come to your home.

Without that support, Gillian struggled to cope with the boys and Darren, who is a bus driver, began missing more and more work. A year later, after taking legal action, they eventually got their home tuition grant restored but the fallout was significant. The couple have fallen into serious arrears on their mortgage and are fearful that they will now lose their home. The best they are hoping for is that they can stay in the house under the Mortgage-to-Rent scheme.

As Gillian and Darren tell me their devastating story, Gillian struggles with her emotions but Darren still remains positive. He has every right to feel sorry for himself but he rarely stops smiling. He never complains. His eyes light up when the twins enter the room and it's clear nothing is too much for his boys even if it means their house is now on the line. His positivity seems to make their situation seem even more unfair. Here is a family who find themselves in a really difficult situation because they have children with special needs whom they love unconditionally.

We all love our children but Darren and Gillian’s love for their children is awe-inspiring. Their patience is endless. The crew and I left that house vowing to count our blessings. Their story has stayed with me ever since.

Watch Darren and Gillian's full story on Primetime on the RTÉ Player.