I’m sitting at the top of the stairs, reading about ivy. I have some pretty photos. This is going to be a nice blog post. The phone rings. Peta, I think as I head down the stairs – I had sent her to school even though she said she had a cold – I feel bad. I pick up the phone. But it is not Peta – I don’t recognise the voice. “I’m sorry to call…” My heart beats faster. I am barraged with words and the world falls away. I start to shake. “You can’t do this…” I hear the quiver in my voice and the anger. The person on the end of the line is still talking, “I am only a cog in a wheel. I have been told to make this phone call, the decision was made way above me.”
In my mind, I see the cogs. I feel the cold, uncaring decision making machine closing in around me.
Joe’s specialist school placement is being ended by the County Council. He is being moved to a grammar school nearly an hours journey from our home…. as a day pupil… no choice.
People wonder why I can’t be positive about New Year, why I can’t embrace a clean start full of new possibilities. But here we are, fourteen days in, and I am drowning in the white noise of panic. How many people have told me, “They won’t do that’? How many times have I heard, “It won’t come to that”? How many times has my world crashed around my ears? And it is happening again. And the problem is, that while my world is crashing, Joe’s could implode catastrophically. If this comes to pass, Joe will lose stability; lose confidence painstakingly regained over the last year; lose peers he is just building up a relationship with, lose so much more than a school place. Even at the most basic, he will have to go through transition, which he struggles with, during his GCSE years. Joe will have to readapt. He is already disadvantaged by the many months he has been forced to spend out of school. What further disruption and upset will be caused by moving him from a specialist school for autistic boys with a class size of three, to a mainstream school that was assessed as not able to meet his needs last July? And what happens when he can’t cope; the first time his behaviour is difficult to handle because he has not been understood? We’ve been here before, more than once.
I try not to loose my temper with the voice at the end of the phone. It advises me to call SENDIASS *¹; tells me to do it now. I thank the voice for calling and put down the phone.
The house is spinning around me. I’m shaking, I can’t focus. I don’t know what to do. I breathe, get out my diary, look for phone numbers. I call Joe’s school, but have to leave a message. I phone Mark – he’s a floored as I am. I look up SENDIASS – I call two different area numbers, get an answer phone and a message telling me the phone is turned off. Social workers click through to answer machines. I want to scream. I need to speak to someone; I need advice. Slowly I reach for a phone number I haven’t used for ages – someone who has helped Joe over and over again, someone I know has helped our family way beyond the job description and who is no longer officially in the job. Three times I put down the phone before I finish dialling. Then I connect and leave a garbled message.
Clutching a cup of tea, I sit on the stairs, waiting for the phone to ring. I’m still shaking, not comprehending. Did I really hear this right? Has someone who doesn’t know anything about Joe really just made this life changing decision? Did I go through this last year for nothing? Because of the lack of provision for autistic children in our county, the only option available to us after Joe’s last exclusion was to voluntarily put Joe into care and allow him to be educated in a residential setting; the emotional turmoil my family endured was in the belief that Joe would have a stable last few years in education during which he could flourish and learn. Moving Joe now will make a mockery of all we have lived through since his last school exclusion, and destroy the last chance he has to do well at school. Frustration wells up; I feel angry, hopeless. I oscillate between white hot fury and a feeling of total disempowerment. And then the phone rings and the voice is familiar and calm and sympathetic; it’s from the number I was hesitant to call. I can’t put my gratitude into words, but scribble notes frantically. I put down the phone feeling renewed determination. I have direction and some hope.
I leave more messages, actually speak to some people including SENDIASS, send emails, take a trip to my MP’s office. I can’t let this happen to Joe. I can’t let him be uprooted again. I will not let him be a victim of budgets and cost cutting. Not again. Not this time. But am I strong enough to make good on my words?
I will not survive intact if we have to go through another period like the one we went through eighteen months ago. Neither will Joe. I don’t want to sound melodramatic or whinging. My family’s story is by no means unique. But it is my story, and I dread how it will end. I worry that I am not strong enough. How long can I keep fighting for Joe simply to get the education he is entitled to? I am already exhausted by years of fighting for Joe. Every time we think we are sorted, the relief we feel is short lived. Every time Joe begins to find his place, it is taken from him. None of this is his fault and yet he is the victim. And somehow this seems the worst yet. Now there is more at stake than ever before because if he is plunged into crisis once again, there will not be time for him to recover and pass his GSCE’s in a manner that reflects his potential; and worse, I don’t think his fragile self-confidence is strong enough to take what will seem like another rejection. He is reaching the age at which society has even less duty to ensure he doesn’t fall through the holes. Next week Joe will be fifteen years old. For each of those fifteen years he has battled his way through his autistic life with courage and a drive to do all that is asked of him. Joe was placed in this school because it was the only place suitable – and that situation has not changed.
I am set adrift again. My world is being torn apart again. But I will fight to stop the same happening to Joe’s. The trees in the woods will have to dig in their roots. I am going to need their support more than ever before…
*¹ SENDIASS – Special Educational Needs and Disability Information, Advice and Support Service