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Funny Looks And Fun Fairs

Every year I brave the fair with Marley and Lilia. Each year he hates it but each year I think maybe it will be easier. It’s meant to be fun; it’s all in the name. It’s just not the case with Marley though, but I want to keep trying. More than anything to prove he isn’t a fun fair attraction!

Fun Fair Freak

I should be used to it by now, the gawping that is. I don’t think I will ever be reconciled to it though. Children are one thing, they don’t know any better. But adults? As we walked round the fair people’s mouths fall open and they just stare. And I think: didn’t anyone ever tell you how rude that is?


The blaring noise, the flashing lights, the smoke from the chestnuts and swarms of people pushing through is a sensory overload for any child. For one who is on the autistic spectrum and in a wheelchair this must be hell. I know this and I still put him through it. Maybe I shouldn’t but I so desperately want him to get used to something ‘normal’. If I don’t take him I can’t be bothered, if I do I’m pushing him too hard... I can’t win.


As we walked round the second time (the first we had to turn straight around and come home) Marley was sat peering up timidly at things with big ear muffs on. Because he wasn’t jumping for joy and had his hands over his ear muffs this was a great example of when I felt like we had 300 pairs of eyes on us. All judging me.  

Sad excuse to parenting

The worst – two little girls who giggled and pointed at him because he was in a wheelchair and his attire. But not because of them, because of their uneducated, obnoxious, face like you want to punch mothers. They actually got their kids to turn around and didn’t correct them! Pulled them away like they would catch something from him. It took all I had in me to not say anything but I knew I couldn’t drop to their minuscule level.


This is what you are up against when you have a child with special needs: other people tend not to be very kind. The odds seem stacked against you, and if people just gave you a bit of space and support, it would go a long way. People constantly knock you down further. As if you really required their criticism over something they wouldn’t have the smallest flying fuck in space of a clue over. They make assumptions about you, they find you wanting, they treat your child as though he or she is dangerous or badly behaved. 


How we look after our most vulnerable says a lot about our society and you don't get much more vulnerable than children with special needs. So we need to up our act a bit, as a society. Places like funfairs are incredibly hard to go to with children with special needs. But why the hell should we not go? Why shouldn’t our kids be allowed to try it out and why are we frowned upon for leaving our houses?

What gives them the right?

I get children with issues such as behavioural disorders aren’t easy to deal with but there isn’t a guidebook we get given with diagnosis. All us mum’s are dealing with new experiences as best we can and sometimes just because a child appears badly behaved it might not always be the case. If someone asked if they could help once in a while rather than roll their eyes or tell me my son requires a good slap it would make my day. And yes I have had a stranger tell me that!


My skin is getting thicker and walking around the funfair with Marley I felt like my skin was growing so think I doubt anyone’s disapproval could penetrate it. I think if I marched around with ‘fuck off’ tattooed to my forehead, I couldn’t have been more obvious about it. It wasn’t easy but as I walked around I actually managed to get him to sit next to the calmer rides and he actually accepted a balloon from a clown (who I personally thought was terrifying).

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Bumper car brain

I think the combination of sensory elements at the fair make anyone’s brain wonder and as I floated around with him I watched as Lilia wanted to go on every ride possible. And as always why shouldn’t she? She’s not scared and wants to go and have fun. What people need to understand is that these are my children. This is my life. It’s not a bed of roses, but I try and make the best of every day. And try and make the best choices for each child. It would be lovely if people were kind and considerate once in a while and give us a bit of space.

It also makes me feel greatly for all the parents of children with behavioural issues who get criticized daily only because their disability isn’t as visible to the eye. People asking what’s wrong with your child? There is nothing wrong with our children thank you stranger, now please go back to living your life.


I don’t need pitty and I need to move forward. I hate people calling me 'special' or thinking I somehow have extra qualities that enable me to deal with all this. The truth is that when it happened to me, I thought I couldn't cope. But a very wise person said to me: 'You'll cope because you have to.' And that's what anyone would do. Calling us 'special' or alluding to our great qualities makes us different, sets us apart, and we don't want that at all.

The face of disability

The other thing they often say is how gorgeous and cute Marley is, as if that is somehow incompatible with a disability. The people you value most are those who just treat you as they would any other family. I love it when people meet us and they try to engage with Marley, just as they would any other child; that's so good. What I don't need is sympathy; I'm hugely proud of my little boy and all he's achieved. Marley and Lilia are the centre of my world and the idea that people feel sorry for me is just so misplaced. So that scary clown who gave Marley a balloon and spent time with us is all I needed to get through that fair.


There are so many families with disabled children in the Algarve and they deserve better. A lot of it is about raising awareness about the reality of their situation, and busting some of the many myths. There's a myth that some disorders, such as autism and ADHD, are a fashionable excuse for bad behaviour and bad parenting. Wrong: these conditions are real and disabling and it is terrible that the parents and families of those with them are stigmatised.


Another myth is that children with disabilities are given the help they need. I know for fact how little help there is, how much I have to fight for everything I’m given and how long it takes even to get the medical care we need.


Another myth, is that language around disability doesn't matter. You get a lot of people who use words like 'retard' and 'mong' and for some reason that's tolerated, while language that's racist or sexist or homophobic definitely wouldn't be. It’s so hurtful to families where there are disabilities. It really is important. It really does make a difference. I nearly keeled over when I looked down at the zoo ticket the other day to read ‘deficiente’. So not ‘child’ ‘person’ even ‘human’. Just one word to describe my world ‘disabled’.

What can you do?

• You can't always tell when someone has a disability. Respond kindly, not judgmentally.

• Don't make assumptions about a child's potential based on a label. People with disabilities have a range of capabilities, just like anyone else.

• If people seem to be struggling, ask: "How can I help?" or "What do you need?"

• Saying "at least it's not such and such" is not helpful.

• If there is a child with a disability in your child's class, invite him or her over for a play date, or include him or her on the birthday party list. Too many parents of children with special needs kids say their kids miss out on peer activities.

•Don’t try and give your parenting tips for example if you disagree the autistic child should be allowed to look at an iPad in a supermarket. That might be the only five minutes that mum has to do her shopping without her child having a meltdown. It really isn’t your business.

• And one last time: don't stare. Really. Just don't. And if your child asks make it a constructive educational conversation. Let’s teach our children to be better people...


So I’ll see what happens next year but there is no way I’m going to stop trying. Just looking at the half inflated balloon at the end of Marley’s bed makes me see how each and every year however hard it gets or however much people stare we’ll go. We will always try.

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