If I told you that my six-year-old son Brody, who has an undiagnosed genetic condition and autism, couldn’t talk – you might imagine him to be a quiet child. Yet this couldn’t be further from the truth.
A lot of the time, he is quite the opposite.
Our house is filled with Brody’s laughter - straight from the belly, squeals of delight, occasional noises of frustration and wonderful babbles of “mum mum mum”, “dad dad dad” and “ba ba ba.”
Silent, he is not.
Here is Brody being chased by his little sister and cousin at the weekend. Winning the race and winning at life. He is happy.
When I read Christine McGuiness’ Instagram post and watched her video recently describing a woman complaining about her children’s happy noises and laughter at a soft play centre, I - like many other parents who walk a similar path - could relate.
On a good day you can shrug off the looks and maybe even a rude comment. But sometimes, they catch you off guard and knock you sideways.
It’s a fact - some people are just arseholes.
Christine’s children, just like when Brody was being chased, were vocalising that they were having fun. And even if, on a different day our children are vocalising that they’re upset, frustrated or just having a bad day – no one has the right to judge them for it, or us as their parents.
As parents, all any of us want is for our children to be happy and included. And these people, the ones that like to stare or make inappropriate comments - though they may be few - they chip away at you. Because they exist.
You’ll meet them everywhere - in the supermarket, the waiting room, at the park or at soft play centres.
They exacerbate the worries that parents of children with disabilities have about the exclusion that they will undoubtedly face at times in their life because of complete and utter ignorance.
It can be soul-destroying.
In our family, Brody and everything about Brody is normal. He is just Brody – our beautiful boy. We don’t notice the noises that he makes as being different. It’s just Brody being Brody.
But sometimes, when we’re out and about, it’s obvious when strangers notice.
I don’t judge anyone for turning around and looking when Brody makes a noise. It’s human nature to look towards a noise that is perhaps loud or different. But it’s the person whose look turns into a stare. The person that doesn’t smile back at him or simply return to what they were doing.
They just gawp. And they should know better.
My reaction to adults who stare varies. Sometimes I can ignore them. Sometimes I stare back. Sometimes I wave at them. Sometimes I smile. Sometimes I am overwhelmed with sadness.
It can be all of the feels.
Because I am proud that Brody is my son and I just want him to be accepted for who he is. Different, not less. Perfectly imperfect.
We need awareness. We need acceptance. We need inclusion. And really, that isn’t much to ask.
The world needs to know that our children have a voice – and their voice, just like yours, deserves to be heard.