AS we indulged in cute cat memes and adorable baby videos, up and down our news feeds over the past month, an important and powerful challenge had been going viral under our very noses, without most of us knowing.
Glanmire mother Nicole Duggan set up her account, My Boy Blue in January 2017 after her son Riley was diagnosed with autism. Speaking about what she wanted to achieve with the account, she said: “My goal is to teach people about autism, spread awareness, fight for inclusion and show people that my little boy is different, yes, but not less.”
Since then, she’s brought her followers on a raw, real and emotional journey of life as a single mother to a son on the autistic spectrum.
They’ve followed her delight through the best days, like when Riley, who is non-verbal, came out with a few words, but also watched as those words disappeared again.
Then and there she made a promise to her son that people would always understand him.
“I wanted to take away his frustrations of not being able to communicate and let him know that he’s being heard, accepted and included,” she said.
At the start of February, Nicole began an initiative on her account.
For each day of the month, she taught her followers how to sign a word a day, using Lámh, and then asked them to repeat it back on their own stories.
Lámh is a manual sign system used by children and adults with intellectual disability and communication needs in Ireland.
It was developed in order to have a standardised, Irish-based manual sign system for those with intellectual disabilities and communication needs.
Nicole never thought she would need sign language to communicate with her little boy but said “autism robbed him of his little voice”, so they had to adapt.
The goal of Nicole’s challenge was for everyone to learn even five of the 28 signs, or even just the word “hello”. This would give them the ability to communicate with a non-verbal child — 28 days, 28 signs, 1 goal, inclusion.”
Nicole tells us that with Lámh, speech is always used with signs and only key words in a sentence are signed. This is to help encourage speech and the development of vocabulary.
“Signing has reduced so much of Riley’s frustration, given him a voice, and shown us how big his personality is,” she said.
The challenge immediately took off, with huge influencers such as Jen Hatton, Ellie Kelly and Erin McGregor taking part.
There was a flood of comments and messages, even a member of the board of directors at Lámh contacted the Duggan family to show her full support.
She then took to Instagram to deliver the news: “I have just had a phone call from a member of the board in LÁMH. They are fully supportive of the challenge and so thankful for the positivity it is spreading. Now let’s go and spread some awareness, show inclusion and let’s learn how to communicate with people like my superstar! LETS SIGN!”
Nicole gave the challenge a new name #RileysChallenge. Thousands of people took to social media to take part, every day of the 28-day month.
And although the initial challenge was spaced over the month of February, My Boy Blue saved every sign and day to her account. This way, you can start the challenge whenever you want and continue to spread the message of inclusivity.
“You don’t need a huge following to take part in Riley’s challenge to spread the word. You just have to be interested, have a passion, and be willing to be inclusive”
All you need to do to begin is: Follow @my_boy_blue_2017 on Instagram. Find the ‘Day 1’ highlight Record yourself making the sign and post it to your story with the hashtag #RileysChallenge.
Speaking about what she has learned from the challenge, Nicole said: “I have learned that people want to communicate with kids like Riley, they want to be educated, they just do not know where to look for the information.
“I have learned that there is power in numbers and together we can make sure anything is possible.
“I have learned exactly what social media should be used for. Not for #af or #sp posts. But for educational purposes.”
In the last few days, she took to the platform to thank everyone who took part, in an emotional post: “I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who posted signs to their story, messaged us, sent us videos and made sure instagram was full of inclusivity for the month of February.”