When the news arrives that you are going to be a parent, especially for the first time, all these amazing thoughts start flowing through your head. Moments such as your child’s first word, your child’s first steps, parent’s evenings, sports days, Nativity plays and everything else that comes with being a mum start to warm your heart. My little boy ‘Bowie’ entered the world on Saturday 20th August 2011 with beautiful caramel skin and big brown eyes, all healthy and brand new. As the months went on it became clear that something wasn’t quite right. Bowie wasn’t hitting milestones other children were hitting, as he grew there was no speech, eye contact was limited, he never slept, never played with toys he just lined them up, and meltdowns were a part of normal life. At the age of 3 years and 2 months Bowie was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder where he fell within the severe end of the spectrum.
Shortly after Bowie’s diagnosis I started campaigning alongside The National Autistic Society for more awareness. Although I held a drivers licence I didn’t have a car so public transport was the norm for me and Bowie, and this is where he faced the majority of his discrimination on a daily basis. I would receive comments such as ‘he just needs a good slap!’ or ‘someone tell that child to be quiet!’. It was hard, very distressing and made me constantly angry and very protective of my boy. I’d simply had enough and I wanted to make a change.
The National Autistic Society had launched a new campaign called The ‘I’m One’ campaign for the 2015 general election in which we wanted to create as much awareness for MPs as possible and ask them to jump on board in supporting The NAS. This was the first time I properly spoke to Jon Cruddas, my local MP. I was able to set up a meeting with Jon and discuss exactly what The NAS was doing and how he can support them. The meeting was very successful, Jon jumped on board straight away and even included ‘more autism awareness training for teachers’ in the 2015 Labour Manifesto.
This campaign lead to me speaking at The 2015 Labour Conference in Brighton at a fringe meeting for The National Autistic Society where I interviewed, and was also interviewed by Labour MP Neil Coyle. This was a pivotal moment for me, I gained a lot of support and it was at this moment that I knew I wanted to be involved politically with autism, bringing autism to light in Parliament.
In 2016 I gained my title as a ‘political activist’ as I lead a local peaceful protest/march from Havering Town Hall to MP Andrew Rosindell’s constituency office in protest of the ESA cuts to disabled people and local cuts to disabled funding. I had a turn-out of 60 people who marched with me, we made front page, ruffled some feathers but made a stand and stood proud.
What have I learned since my son’s diagnosis? I have learned never to judge a book by its cover, I have also learned that not everybody has a heart, but the main thing I have learned is the fact that as long as you have a voice you have freedom of speech. Always exercise your right to stand up and fight for what you believe in. My son is my inspiration and he forever will be as I continue this political journey.
Fay Hough – Youth Officer for Dagenham & Rainham Labour Party