2 years ago this week began a downhill slide with Ryan’s first transport team. Here in England, children with high support needs are sent to “Special Schools” I don’t love that system as it limits time for groups of children to learn from each other. I feel like we are creating another generation of people who don’t know how to help neurodiverse people succeed because they don’t have any experience to go of. Because these schools are rarely within walking distance of the child who requires the support, transport is provided until the age of 16. That is another issue but lets stick to the topic.
I was already nervous about putting Ryan in a vehicle with a stranger every day. His school is in another city and because we don’t own a car I didn’t really have any other options. Ryan’s first transport team was an independent taxi driver and a woman of retirement age. Lets call her… Buttface. Lol, no she can have a real name. Jill. There were also 3 other boys in the car, aged from around 10 to 15.
I hadn’t met Jill before the first pick up and only had a brief conversation with the driver as it was his responsibility to arrange pick up and drop off plans. When Jill stepped out of the car she quickly introduced herself to me as she ushered Ryan into the car. I tried to give her some directions. “Ryan’s language is delayed. You must speak to him in short sentences and give him time to process your instructions.” She waved me away as she climbed into the car and rushed on her way. I tried to calm my nerves by reminding myself that her job was keeping special needs children safe. She would know what to do, right?
Wrong. A couple days later she got out of car at drop off in quite a huff. “He doesn’t listen to me!” She exclaimed as Ryan danced around us.
“This morning he ran to the school in front of me. He is supposed to wait for me.”
“Oh, yeah, he’s awfully independent. When you need him to wait for you, just hold up your hand in a stop motion and say “Ryan. Wait.”
It was like I hadn’t spoken. “He needs to be able to listen to me. What will you do to sanction him for not following directions?”
I was so caught off guard I actually stumbled a bit. It could have also been Ryan pulling on my arm in impatience to get going, but lets blame Jill. “Oh, well, everything we’ve read says that positive reinforcement is be-”
She couldn’t even let me finish a sentence. “Is he medicated?”
“Why not?” This is the first time she actually waited for a response which gave me time to resist the urge to scream.
“Because he’s not.” Now, let the record show I am not against medications. I know that properly prescribed and well thought out therapies have made a huge difference in people’s life. In the future, if the experts in Ryan’s life suggest some chemical intervention then I will probably follow advice. This woman, however, was not an expert.
From that moment on, Jill and I were not friends. I carefully observed each peek I could get into her interactions with Ryan. I reminded her almost every day how to communicate with him. After 3 or 4 weeks the driver decided that the original pick up and drop off plan wasn’t working and he wanted to drop another child off before bringing Ryan home. This added 45 minutes to Ryan’s car time each day. His behaviour went down hill fast.
When they informed me of the change I told Jill I wasn’t sure how well Ryan would manage. First, he was just barely 6 years old, the youngest child in the car. Second, up until this point he had gone to school for 3 hours a day at the school that was a 5 minute walk from our home. Suddenly he was being picked up at 730 in the morning and returned to me at 430 in the afternoon. That is a long day for an adult. Ryan was being set up for failure by this change but the convenience of the driver won out in the end.
So, in a twist that will surprise no one, Ryan began to wiggle in his seat. He started kicking the back of the driver’s chair. He would undo his seatbelt and play with the windows. Jill met me day after day with no time to communicate with me about solutions, only demanding to know what “sanctions” we would be placing on Ryan for his bad behaviour in the car. After I made several attempts to remind her how to speak to Ryan, I asked the school to step in. That day, a teacher met Jill at the door with 3 identical laminated sheets of paper. She explained to Jill that one sheet would stay at school, one would be hung in our home, and one would stay with Jill. We would all use this sheet to help Ryan remember what was expected of him. It was a simple “Feet down, seatbelt on, Ryan is safe!” They included pictures to communicate the ideas.
The next morning I bucked Ryan into the car and kissed him goodbye. “Remember, Ryan! Feet down, seatbelt on, Ryan is safe!” As Jill reached around me to close the door I hear her say “Ok, Ryan, you better be a good boy today. No wiggling….” They drove away. I think that was the first day that Ryan hit Jill. Of course, when I found out I was mortified, but I also knew that she had backed him into a corner.
It wasn’t long before getting Ryan into the car every day became a herculean feat. I have never felt like a worse parent. I was handing my child over every day to a person who treated him like a delinquent. School was a dream come true to Ryan. Fort the first time he was surrounded by other children all day (in mainstream school he had spent most of the day alone with his aide) His confidence, speech, and ability to engage with us had come so far just in the weeks since he had begun, but the ride there and back was quickly becoming a price he was unwilling to pay.
Aurora was 2 years old. Travelling back and forth to Ryan’s school would take 4 hours of our day if we gave up transport. Not to mention the cost of the travel, which we certainly could not afford. I was at my wits end and while I can recognise that Jill’s behaviour was completely out of line, at the time I was worried that my complaints wouldn’t be taken seriously and Jill would take the lack of action by the transport commission to be tacit approval of her treatment of my boy.
I felt completely trapped. Then, Ryan began refusing to get into the car to come home. After a long day of learning he just couldn’t face 90 minutes in a small enclosed space with her. I couldn’t blame him but picking him up was completely unsustainable. Ryan’s school changed his entire day to focus around helping him through his travel anxiety. I worked to make sure that Ryan had plenty of chances to work out his worries and lots of chances to make good choices and receive praise. Jill changed nothing.
After about 2 weeks of his refusal to come home in the car I got a call from Jill. Ryan had gotten into the car without issue at the end of the day. His teacher reported he was calm and happy as they drove away. Within 10 minutes the car had returned and Ryan was hysterical. His teacher pulled him out of the car and the driver drove away without taking the time to leave Ryan’s school bag behind. On the phone Jill was screaming at me. Ryan had hit her in the face.
“THAT CHILD IS A DEVIL! HE IS AN ABSOLUTE DEVIL AND I WON’T BE ABUSED LIKE THIS. WE WON’T BE PICKING HIM UP ANYMORE…..” she went on and on. I could barely understand her and ended up hanging up the phone after several minutes of her screaming while I tried to understand what had happened and where Ryan was. A call to the school had cleared matters up.
That was the end. Once Ryan was safe at home and asleep I sat down to write an email to the transport team. I made it clear that I agreed that it was not okay that Ryan had hurt Jill. No one deserves to get smacked around, no matter how much of an asshole they are being. I detailed all of the issues we had experienced with Jill, and all of the attempts the school and I had made to teach her how to communicate with Ryan. I told them that Ryan would not be setting foot in a car with her again, that they would need to make other arrangements. More than that, though, I insisted that Jill should not be working with special needs children. I didn’t make that assertion lightly. I wouldn’t normally try to interfere with someone’s livelihood but I still believe she has no business working with children at all, much less children with high support needs.
Whew… 2 years later and it turns out I’m still angry about this. She made Ryan’s triumphant start to school a nightmare. In the end, she kept her job. Someone interviewed her and did a ride-along. They recommended her for additional training. They didn’t try to force me to send Ryan back to her care. In the end he was off school anyway for Christmas break and shortly after that he received funding for a team of his own and now he is the only child in the car for a short commute and I can’t fault any of the people chosen to be his escort from that moment on.
I still see Jill now and then. Sometimes if an escort isn’t available I get to ride in the taxi to Ryan’s school and I’ll spot her leading her little group of children into the school. When he spots her, he moves behind me as if hiding but thankfully trusts me enough to continue following me into the school. I still have to resist the urge not to scream at her. I hope I’m not angry forever, but if staying angry means I am less likely to wait so long before demanding better treatment for my child then I am ok with that.
Whew, record setting post today. Sorry for that. Its been on my mind a lot. Thanks for sticking with me.