You’d think that, given the huge amount of trust needed to put your child into a taxi each day, that the local authority would be sympathetic and helpful in finding the right service for each child. Unfortunately that simply isn’t true.
Lloyd rode in the taxi with Sawyer for the first few days, and although the service was just about tolerable, I still felt very uncomfortable with the thought of sending him alone. The car had smelled of cigarettes, they showed up late on a couple of occasions, and I didn’t get any sense that they would be able to do any more than simply transport Sawyer back and forth. What if he had a meltdown in the car? These people certainly weren’t trained in autism, or sensory difficulties, so what would they do? Those of you who have had the horrific experience of trying to drive while your child has an autistic meltdown will know that it is no mean feat – so how would they cope? Would they restrain him? Bring him back home? Ignore him? I believe that the council have no proper contingency plans for these possibilities because it would increase their accountability. If they put specific guidelines in place then they could be more easily blamed should things go wrong. It seems to, yet again, come down to lack of funding, and therefore lack of expertise. As is often the case for parents of children with additional needs, I found that the service we had been provided with was just okay enough to make us wonder if we were asking for too much. And just okay enough to make me doubt myself and question for the millionth time whether or not I’d crossed the line from reasonable to Difficult Parent.
The night before Sawyer was due to ride alone in the taxi I fought my feelings and went to bed telling myself not to be precious, that children ride in taxis every day, and that everything would be fine. But when I woke up drenched in sweat at 4am I finally decided to trust my instincts. I got up and called the taxi company to say that we wouldn’t be needing their assistance later that morning. I went back to bed feeling like a weight had been lifted, and a couple of hours later I was driving Sawyer to school once again.
The only obvious way to contact our local authority’s transport team was to send an email, and of course that gave an immediate auto-response informing me how busy they were. I managed to dig a phone number out of the darkest depths of Google, but it led to an answering machine that informed me I had reached the right office, but that nobody was there to respond. I contacted Sawyer’s case worker at the local authority for advice, asked the school if they could recommend anything, and desperately messaged other SEN parents, but yet again there was no clear pathway. Sawyer’s case worker replied with an email address for someone in charge, and I went about putting my complaint down in writing – not just for Sawyer’s sake – but for everyone who would have to go through this desperately anxiety-inducing process. I went round and round in circles for several days until eventually a new company was put in charge of Sawyer’s transport. Again, we agreed that Lloyd would ride in the taxi for the first couple of days to ensure everything was okay, but by some type of miracle, it wouldn’t have been necessary.
Dave turned up on our doorstep at 8am sharp, looking smart, and with one of the most welcoming smiles I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing. Within the first moments of meeting him I felt like I’d known him forever, as he happily told me that he’d been driving SEN children for many years, and that he always looks after each of them like they’re his own Grandchildren. He asked for my number so that he could call if there were any problems, and so that he could let me know when Sawyer had been dropped off safely. I think he could sense my anxiety, and I appreciated the silent acknowledgement.
Dave gave me confidence. Not only did he have the experience necessary to know how to cope with an autistic child, but I could tell from his demeanour that Sawyer would respond well to him. Sawyer is usually happy in the car with me, and I could tell instantly that Dave was calm enough to put Sawyer at ease. What I didn’t expect was the incredible bond they would form. Sawyer would come home and tell us what they’d talked about from the radio show they listened to each day, and Dave would tell us stories of the things Sawyer said to make him laugh, or roll his eyes, or sometimes drop his jaw to his lap. It didn’t take long for Dave to become a family friend rather than Sawyer’s driver, and to become someone we looked forward to seeing twice a day at the front door. Dave would playfully make fun of my big curly hair, and insinuate that I had been sat at home drinking prosecco all day when I told him I had worked from home. Lloyd would answer the front door in his dressing gown just to see what he would say, and Dave would make quips at Lloyd’s expense whenever he wasn’t nearby.
It was like a dream come true that finally someone in the ‘system’ was looking after not only Sawyer, but our entire family! On the last day of the February half term, Dave brought a big chocolate bar each for Sawyer and Piper, and as he left we joked about going out to the disco together during the break. In his usual way he half walked and half danced down the garden path, and I waved him off at the door with a big smile on my face.
A few days later I was at my desk at work when I got the message to tell me.
Dave had unexpectedly passed away.