Monday 13 February 2012

On delivering a parcel

One morning last week I stood in the reception of my local council offices waiting to deliver a large brown envelope packed with evidence that my daughter needed help.

It had snowed overnight and as I waited there, the thick entrance doors sliced open and closed with a slushy mechanical wheeze, conveying blinking, wet-faced employees into the building, along with runnels of stained water that made patterns in the cheap carpet underfoot.

I looked at the succession of people passing me, shaking their hair and the snow from their boots, and wondered if any of them would be making the decision about Grace's future: the decision that would make an entirely different life for her. I had asked the receptionist to see Grace's case worker and been told that he was not at his desk but that a message would be left for him to come down as soon as he appeared, which would be shortly.

In the peculiar business that is getting a statement (if you don't know this joy, you can read a summary here) I was about to hand over a mountain of deeply personal reports and assessments, which in clinical tones told of my daughter's mind and heart and self, to a man I had never before met, who would then take them away, show them to a panel of more people I had never met and would not know, then write to me a few weeks later to tell me whether this group of anonymous deciders had been sufficiently moved to grant our request for additional support.

A yes would mean the money for an assistant to work one to one with her in the classroom and to help her navigate the social minefield of the playground. It would open the door to the best secondary school in the area, with its team of support workers and autism-friendly teaching methods and its drama and art studios where Grace could thrive and bloom.

A no would mean the dull continuation of daily struggle and bullying and constant barely-suppressed terror at what life at the local comprehensive would entail. A no would mean a long, long legal battle to change the LEA's verdict. A no would mean living even deeper in debt as we scrambled to pull together enough money to pay for some help ourselves.

So I wanted to see this man, the only face in the chain that I was indeed likely to be allowed to see. We had spoken on the phone a couple of times, most recently two weeks ago when I rang to say that the school and I were working together on preparing our second application attempt and to ask if I could bring it to him in person to meet him on this date. He had agreed.

 I looked at the clock on the wall. It showed me that ten minutes had passed since my arrival. I sat down on a hard felt sofa and removed my hat. My stomach was knotted and my hands tingled slightly with nerves. I smoothed the surface of the envelope, feeling its hard bulk under my fingers, and hoped for the hundredth time that we'd got it right, that we'd done enough. In the last few weeks I had called upon everyone I thought might be useful to seek advice on the final presentation. To the obvious dismay of the school special educational needs co-ordinator, exhausted from weeks of typing and collating material, I had asked her just the previous morning to rewrite sections of it along the suggestions of some of the experts I had asked to comment on the draft version. Ignoring my discomfort I had also at the same meeting edited spelling mistakes out of the headteacher's letter and asked for some other changes to be made. As late as the previous evening I was still emailing and calling the school to check the final version. When I picked up the final package for delivery I mentally congratulated the staff on still being able to raise a smile when they saw me. I pushed away the memory from the previous week when I discovered their copy of the code of practice -- the special educational needs bible for schools -- was dated 1994, and unread.

More council staff walked past me, the laggards now, tugging off scarves and checking their blackberries as they passed. I dug my phone out of my pocket and checked the time. Seventeen minutes had passed.

At that moment a tired-looking woman in a smart skirt and jumper approached me and asked if I was waiting for X. I said I was. She told me that he was very busy and had sent her to collect my package rather than coming down himself.

Numbly I handed it over and watched her take it from me. She turned to go and in a rush I said: "I really hope it works." The woman looked slightly embarrassed and nodded.

Then I put my hat on and walked back out into the snow, so bright it brought tears to my eyes.

Grace Under Pressure: going the distance as an Asperger's mum, will be published by Piatkus in October 2012


  1. Like many other MNers, I'm following Grace's story and hoping you and Grace get the outcome you need and deserve.

    Wishing you both the best of luck. x

  2. Thank you very much -- we have everything crossed that this time we got it right ..

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