A local mother has been left distraught after her autistic son’s transport to school was changed two days before he was due to start back.

Caroline Duignan’s six-year-old son Cian Walmsley attends Willowbridge School in Enniskillen and is provided with transport to school from his home in Newtownbutler. Although advised by an Education Authority (EA) staff member that Cian’s transport to school would remain the same as the previous year, Caroline was informed last Thursday, mere days before he was due to return to school, that it had changed, which has since caused her son great upset.

“My son has got autism and he likes continuity in his life. That word alone is about routine and about the people being in his life and space.

“The Education Authority transport department has changed his taxi and of course this is very upsetting for Cian and he has had a number of meltdowns throughout the whole weekend,” shared Caroline.

“Cian was diagnosed in July 2018 with autism and he’s got his final statement out but because ‘continuity’ is not written on his statement, EA transport wants to put him in a car with two other children from Willowbridge School, in a booster seat whereas what Cian had last year was an eight-seater minibus from Roslea Taxis. The woman was Mary Connelly, she was able to provide the space if he had a meltdown, she was able to take Cian and make sure his safety was 100 per cent coming home from Willowbridge to my door. She put him in a car seat that had a back, this new taxi is going to be putting him in a booster seat,” said Caroline, frustration evident in her voice.

Caroline explained that during Cian’s P1 year at Willowbridge, he travelled to school on an EA bus and for his return journey he was collected by an eight-seater mini-bus from Roslea Taxis. However, as Cian starts P2 this year, the EA has arranged that he will travel to school by EA bus as per last year but he is to travel home with a different taxi company in a regular five-seater car with two other children. This not only removes the continuity in Cian’s life, but Caroline believes his safety and the safety of other children could also be at risk due to him not being given the space he requires.

Speaking to this newspaper, Caroline said: “If we put him in this taxi, he could hurt himself because if I sit beside you and I rub elbows we don’t mind, but when a child who has special needs, especially my son who has autism, it’s going to affect him because he can hit back, if he hurts another child or hurts himself, God forbid the school will be on our backs maybe even social workers.”

Getting emotional, Caroline continued: “I find it hard to try to keep my child with routine and space and give him the things he needs throughout the day.

“As a parent who has a child with special needs, it’s very difficult for us. It’s very difficult for the child and for me to hand over my child to a complete stranger, knowing it’s going to upset him.

“I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with the new taxi or anything but my child is kicking off for his routine to be in his life everyday.”

A spokeswoman for the Education Authority (EA) said: “EA cannot comment on the circumstances of individual children. Each year, EA’s Special Educational Team and other services work hard to make appropriate arrangements for every child, including over 20,000 children with Statement of Special Educational Needs. We remain committed to ensuring that all necessary arrangements are in place ahead of the new school year.”

She added: “EA provides school transport in a variety of ways including the use of public transport, our own fleet of buses and the provision of privately contracted buses and taxis.

“We recognise that for some pupils, their travel experience is improved by familiarity and routine and so have undertaken to investigate this matter further and find a satisfactory resolution as quickly as possible.”

“We didn’t ask for our son to have autism but because he has this disability we want to work around him to make everyday life comfortable for him and we are doing that as parents but we feel that EA transport are not doing that for our son,” added Caroline.