(Written for the Mumsnet #thisismychild campaign, a wonderful campaign to raise awareness about the issues facing parents whose children have special needs, and myths about disability. And apologies to regular readers who will know all this already)
Because I have two children with additional needs.
Picture my family out for a walk. What do you see? A girl in a very large buggy, a tall pre-teen walking close by his Mum and telling her all about his latest video game, a lovely young woman, at a slight remove, headphones firmly clamped over her ears, and me, a middle aged Mum with a look of perpetual worry stamped on my face.
Perhaps you look a little more closely. You realise that the girl is actually a giggly teenager with a big bobbing head, tiny hands and feet, and the frill of a nappy peeking out over her leggings. Eeuugh, you think, she must be incontinent. Then she starts making a noise, you don't know what it is, but it's very loud. You feel a bit sorry for the Mum. She might start sticking out her tongue to indicate that she is thirsty, it looks odd and unattractive and you pull your children away. Maybe the 'r' word creeps into your mind.
Look again. She's making noise and kicking her legs and bobbing her head because she's happy. It doesn't take much to make her happy: food when she's hungry, drink when she's thirsty, a bed when she's tired, the toilet when she needs it (she is partially toilet trained), and love, security and entertainment, well, all the time. The simplest things make her happy, and she broadcasts her happiness to anyone who makes the effort to get to know her.
But she can't walk or talk, you're thinking, that's pretty bad isn't it? Well you'd only be half right. She may not have understandable speech, but she certainly knows how to communicate! And she can walk too, with a little help from her friends...
Here on the blog she's called Smiley, because she is. And Smiley is described as having severe physical and intellectual disabilities. I used to say that she has cerebral palsy as that is the description used on all the forms that have to be completed regularly to get her the services, funding and equipment that she needs. But it was confirmed earlier this year that she is actually undiagnosed. And very, very special.
And the other child with additional needs? Well that would be my son. You can't tell just by looking at him, because he has aspergers syndrome.
More about that here: aspergers syndrome
He is also just about to start secondary school so I can no longer write about him. I just have to keep my fingers and toes firmly crossed at all times...