When we got home on Sawyer’s last day at his old school, he ran upstairs with his goodbye card, and slid it under his bed. In the days that followed, he would periodically become emotional, but he quickly recovered himself, and would insist he didn’t want/need to talk about it.
School holidays used to disrupt and unsettle Sawyer beyond measure, but thankfully that has lessened with age, and with the things we have learned. We managed to enjoy our summer together, making the most of the garden in our new home, and
more gadget-hours than you can shake a stick at lazy, long summer days. One of the things I admire most about Sawyer is how black and white he can be about life: Once the raw emotion of leaving his old school faded, he started to look forwards instead of back. He carefully filed his old classmates and teachers under PAST MEMORIES, and tentatively opened the file named ‘NEW ADVENTURES’. Brutal, you think? Unfortunate, even? Maybe. But truthfully, don’t you wish you had that skill?
We had moved house in June (another blog, another day), and so instead of a summer holiday, we stayed home to save the money, and to enjoy our new space. But despite a relief that came with the end of a stressful house purchase, my mind, as always, shifted to the next anxiety. To the next stress. To the next job. Was I worried about Sawyer beginning a new school? Absolutely not. The school was carefully chosen, and was absolutely the place he needed to be if he were to excel in the way we knew he could. No, it wasn’t the school. My anxieties stemmed from something far more trivial. You see, the new school was perfect in every way but one: It was half an hour journey away, and I am a working mum.
We are incredibly fortunate in this country that when a child needs to go to a specialist school that is not nearby, the council – our taxes – pay for their transportation. But any parent reading this who has had to go through the trauma of organising said transport will already be knotted with irritation. It’s the same story all over again – the budget is too small, the team is too busy, and the process is inefficient but can’t be changed due to reasons nobody has ever been inclined to challenge.
And that’s not even the worst part.
Parents of neurotypical children: I am one of you, too. If you have followed my blog since the beginning (shout out Mum & Dad) you will know that Piper – Sawyer’s sister – is neurotypical, and in mainstream school. And yet I ask you, parents of neurotypical children: When your babies were barely 9 years old, would you have felt comfortable putting them in a taxi with someone you didn’t know? I’m going to hazard a guess at no. So trust me when I say that if your child has additional needs – or at least when your child has autism, this worry goes up tenfold.
– What if he opens the car door into moving traffic?
– What if he gets out and runs to the school gate without looking?
– What if he has a meltdown in the car?
– What if I pack him off to school and I get a call at 10am to say he never arrived?
With only a couple of weeks to go until Sawyer was due to start at his new school, the council were yet to allocate his transportation. They didn’t know who the driver would be, they didn’t even know which company. Nothing. Forced as ever to pick my battles, I sent polite emails and waited patiently until finally one morning the letter came in the post (they tried to send smoke signals first, apparently, but sadly I didn’t pick them up). I was delighted to find that Sawyer would be in his own taxi, meaning he wouldn’t need to share with any other children, and that he would have both a driver and what is called a Passenger Assistant – someone to sit with him in the back of the car. This all meant less chance of sensory overload, more chance of them being able to handle him in case of sensory meltdown, and much less anxiety for me – hurrah! However, when I started to research the taxi company, I did not like what I saw. Reviews upon review of them being late, unprofessional, not turning up, and so on so forth. And so, already anxious about putting my first-born into a car with people I did not know, I took the only proactive measure I could under the circumstances. I asked to meet the driver and assistant in person before Sawyer’s first day. The woman on the phone was helpful, said it wouldn’t be a problem, and agreed to the time and date I suggested on the phone. We were now running short of time, with only one full week between my anxiety and Sawyer starting his new school, and of course I was relieved that we seemed to be in the best position we could to ensure Sawyer’s safety.
Except the visit never happened. Because nobody ever showed up.
When I called the company, I was passed from person to person, with nobody willing to take responsibility for what had or hadn’t happened. Nobody was willing to try to arrange another visit, and by now it was only a few days until Sawyer was due to start school. With all that in mind, I had no choice but to inform the Local Authority that I would drive him myself until arrangements could be made. A few days later, on Sawyer’s first day of his new school, we woke up at 7am, got dressed, and embarked upon the hour-long roundtrip to his new school, dropping his sister off at her school on the way back. I started work at 9.30am, worked for a few hours, and then did it all again in reverse.
I’ll talk in another blog about his time so far in his new school – but I need Sawyer to co-write that one with me, since it’s his experience. Meanwhile I want you to gather the full picture of what sending your child to a specialist school can be like. How… just when you think the fight is over, you open the door to be smacked in the face with a problem dressed as a giant red boxing glove. Infuriating? A tad. But at this point is anyone surprised?
After several weeks arguing with the Local Authority – in between 3 hours of daily driving and a full time job – I had to concede. I agreed a start date with the taxi firm, on the condition that Lloyd could travel with them for the first few days. They agreed, and a few more anxious days later, we were standing in the front window waiting for the car to arrive. A few more moments later, the car doors closed, and they were gone.
I can only imagine that the council wont pay for taxi staff to make home visits in advance of new jobs, and that that is why nobody turned up to the initial visit. But why didn’t they just tell me that in the first place? I’d have driven to them! And while I understand the financial strains on Local Authorities, I can’t help but wonder why nobody has pointed out that this should be budgeted for as standard when a child is under a certain age. Am I an anxious parent? Yes! But would most parents feel the same way under the circumstances? I think so. But drop me a comment and tell me if you wouldn’t.
I sat for a few moments after the car drove off, staring at the window but not seeing anything. I already knew I was going to cry that morning, even though Lloyd was travelling with him. This was a huge milestone for Sawyer – for us. It was a new beginning! And a mixture of relief, pride, anger, resentment and sadness bubbled just beneath the surface of my skin. Tears inevitably spilled down my cheeks as I faked happy and helped Piper with her breakfast. When my phone beeped on the side I wiped my hands on a tea-towel and continued to silly chat with Piper as I looked down at my phone.
“This taxi stinks and there are cigarette packets everywhere” Lloyd said.