I took my son to a busy park yesterday and while he climbed on equipment for toddlers I watched as one parent encouraged and guided her young toddler away from my noisy flappy ten year old.
Her son was naturally wary of the bigger, noisier and more energetic child and the parent seemed even more scared.
There were no stares or direct hurtful comments just a noticeable avoidance and a moving away.
Others seem to follow their lead and within minutes of my son climbing the few steps of the slide the small area of the park became so quiet it was just my son and myself.
He was oblivious. I wasn't.
Now I know there could be multiple reasons why the first child was guided away.
I know my son is noisy, flappy and to some he should never even be on the younger equipment but that smaller, simpler slide and climbing frame is all he can do at ten.
He has every bit as much right to use the park as any other child and he wasn't harming anyone.
I was watching him closer than any other parent. He was incredibly happy laughing loudly and excitedly as he climbed the few steps to the slide.
As we arrived the park was busy but after that first toddler was led away everyone else followed.
It was a powerful moment that left me feeling hurt, ashamed and embarrassed.
Autism isn't contagious.
Your child won't catch it by being around my son.
Yes, young children do copy others or feel worried at the sight of an older child around but my son isn't dangerous or horrible. He's autistic.
Don't be afraid of the unknown. While you may wonder why a child almost as tall as his mum is still on smaller equipment or making different noises to expected, please feel free to talk to me.
I'll happily tell you about my son and his love of life. I'll happily tell you how excited he is to go down the same slide hundreds of times.
I'll explain that his wonderful laughing isn't aimed at your child and is just the sheer joy of being able to see cars pass as he ascends the ladder.
Never be afraid of what you don't know. Use it instead as an opportunity to learn. Difference isn't to be feared in any way.
Disability isn't contagious.
Autism isn't something to fear or walk away from. Even if there were legitimate reasons please explain to your child that my child exists and that he shouldn't be avoided.
He is different, yes, but not less in any way.
Please let your children see children like mine. Please don't ignore us.
Would it really have been so awful if your young child started laughing like mine?
I'm just so grateful my child doesn't understand the hurt that I felt the day the park emptied when we arrived.
I'm glad he enjoyed his time in the park regardless. His laughter is helping heal my broken heart.