Victor Byrne - facing the challenges of autism

Michelle Nic Phaidin


Michelle Nic Phaidin

Many people know and recognise Victor Byrne as being manager of McDonalds in Letterkenny but few people know he is father to four children two of which are on the autism spectrum on the Aspergers side of it.

Many people know and recognise Victor Byrne as being manager of McDonalds in Letterkenny but few people know he is father to four children two of which are on the autism spectrum on the Aspergers side of it.

Victor and his lovely wife Pauline have four wonderful children, nine-year-old James, seven-year-old Christian, Grace who is two and a half years of age and Paul who is only twelve weeks old. James has been diagnosed with Autism, his being more on the Aspergers side of the spectrum. Grace has also been diagnosed with a similar condition.

“James was diagnosed with Autism which is more on the Aspergers of the side of spectrum. Grace was also recently diagnosed but we are uncertain, as yet, which side she is at,” he said.

The caring father said that while he works in a full-time managerial role his wife Pauline remains at home with the children. “It’s hard for any parent to hear what we had to hear. However, here in Donegal we are very lucky as the support services up here are second to none,” he said.

Asperger syndrome, also known as Asperger’s syndrome, is an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It differs from other autism spectrum disorders by its relative preservation of linguistic and cognitive development. Asperger syndrome is named after the Austrian paediatrician, Hans Asperger, who, in 1944, studied and described children in his practice who lacked nonverbal communication skills, demonstrated limited empathy with their peers, and were physically clumsy.

Victor describes James as being “highly functioning” and “very clever” while his greatest concern with him would be in terms of safety. When other children would be very cautious of the road, James would at times, not consider the dangers and run across to someone he recognises.

“When something goes wrong, James gets very frustrated and goes into himself. He can then get angry and you need to let him work through it and then he will come to you and tell you he is sorry and explain to you why he is angry,” he said.

There also times that James may find loud noises hard to bear when he is taking a social outing with his family. On occasions people can be narrow minded when it comes to children’s behaviour and Victor finds that in his working environment he can, at times, see other children “that are on the spectrum” and parents really do appreciative his understanding and thankful that they can talk to someone.

“It is very hard for parents when they find out for the first time. I remember one father saying to me that he always imagined bringing his son to football matches and that now he felt he would not be able to. Now, James has come a long way and I can take places as long as I explain the rules and he knows them which is good,” he said.

Jame’s earlier diagnosis leaves the parents better prepared to help Grace. “James has come a long way and in a sense we have a lot from him that will help Grace. “Some children who are the same age as Grace are saying words but Grace hasn’t started properly yet. She has not realised that you can bring someone by the hand to show them what you want,” he said.

He recalled an incident where Grace recently stretched up and pulled a kettle down from the sideboard. “There was no harm done, we were just lucky,” he said relieved.

Victor and Pauline’s children attend Castletown National School in their area. When Victor is not being kept exceptionally busy at the McDonalds cafe in the heart of Letterkenny he likes to unwind by playing a game of golf with his friends at the Letterkenny Golf club. “I am very happy to be part of Letterkenny golf club, it takes your mind off things and you feel better afterwards,” he said.

During the week, both parents are kept exceptionally busy with their daily work and appointments that they need to attend for the children.

“It is very hard having to attend all these appointments. It is harder for my wife who is in the house twenty four seven. I am lucky because my boss is very understanding there are times when I need to change shifts and he is always very accommodating. Without his support it would definitely be harder,” he said.

Victor has been with McDonalds for twenty years and enjoys his work here in Letterkenny where he has lived for three years. Originally from Dublin he worked a while in Galway before moving to Donegal which he describes as being very much his home. He is an active member of “The Autism Family Support” in Letterkenny. The organisation was highly commended by Victor who said that it helps parents with advice, organises fun days and is a great support with parents who have children who an on the Autism spectrum. It is also an opportunity to help and advice eachother and share stories with eachother.

The Annual General Meeting of the group is taking place in Arena seven on Wednesday night at 8 o’clock and everyone is welcome to attend.