A NEWCASTLE father has slammed the behaviour of passengers who snapped at his autistic son and caused him to have a “meltdown” on a Sydney to Newcastle train.
Noah Jones, 8, who has mild autism, was returning from a family day out at Sydney Aquarium on Thursday when a fellow commuter took exception to him speaking to other passengers as part of a “game”.
“She said, ‘don’t encourage him, I’m sick of hearing him’,” Noah’s father, James Jones, said.
“It wasn’t a quiet carriage. Other people could see he’s a bit of a character and were playing along. I said he didn’t have to be silent and it was her choice to sit there.”
Mr Jones, who was also with Noah’s mother Judith and their adult daughter Jennifer, said a man then yelled “he’s been talking since Central [station]”, prompting other passengers to stick up for Noah.
What followed was a shouting match in the carriage that left Noah, sure it was his fault, curled up on the floor, crying, and saying he wanted to die.
What the woman and man who criticised Noah didn’t know, his father said, is that the Joneses consider any family outing a minor miracle. That they consider Noah, born after his mother had four miscarriages, more than a minor miracle.
That despite having autism and global development delay he has worked hard to be in a regular class at Hamilton South Public School and that, despite a drama at lunch where Noah hit his head, the family had been quietly buzzing after their day at the aquarium.
Mr Jones praised the kindness of the passengers who helped calm Noah, and said the fault for the incident didn’t lie with the rail service.
But the family has been stung by a series of unsolicited barbs from “older” public transport commuters, who Mr Jones said are often quick to judge his son and take Mr and Mrs Jones to task about their parenting.
“This lady would have been in her sixties. She might’ve been having a bad day, but for her to try and take that enjoyment away from him?” Mr Jones said.
“We’re finding the older generation are the ones we’re having problems with. It’s a never-ending story for my family and I wish people could walk in our shoes.”
NSW TrainLink tells passengers in quiet carriages to keep their phones on silent, use headphones with mobile devices and refrain from conversation.
In regular carriages, the advice is to avoid loud phone conversations and “offensive language”.
“The safety and comfort of our customers are NSW TrainLink’s highest priorities so we are disappointed to hear of this family’s experience,” a spokesman said.
“We don’t condone anti-social behaviour in any form and encourage all of customers travelling on our services to show respect towards their fellow travellers.”
Graeme Innes, the former Australian Disability Discrimination Commissioner, said the treatment of people with disabilities on public transport was “a community issue”.
“I think we need to recognise there are differences in disability, and for someone with autism, we need to cut them some slack,” Mr Innes said.
“In this situation, it’s about respecting someone’s difference and taking it into account.”