Family's battle with bureaucracy over school transport for autistic son finally over

A Queanbeyan mother is grateful her autistic son has been allowed bus travel to school after a four-year battle with the NSW Education Department but infuriated it took going to the media to get a result. Janet Smith told her story to The Canberra Times earlier this month out of desperation when she was knocked back four times by the department after years of battling the bureaucracy. Mrs Smith and her husband Nick have two profoundly autistic sons, both of whom attend the Malkara School, across the border in Canberra. She was forced to run the gauntlet every morning taking her children to school because her elder son, Kye, would regularly physically attack her and then set off his younger brother, Zac, who became extremely distressed. The Smiths wanted Zac, nine, who is not physically violent, to ride on the bus so Mrs Smith could safely take Kye, 12, to school. Mrs Smith said the way her van was configured, she could not put Kye in a more secure harness as the bolt was too close to where Zac had to sit. With only Kye in the car, he could be seated further back from the driver's seat and closer to the bolt, so that he could be in a better harness. She hoped he would one day be able to access some other travel option. The NSW department was already running a bus service between Canberra and Queanbeyan, with a carer on board, but it deemed the family was not eligible for its use. That changed after the story was published in The Canberra Times and through the intervention of State Member for Monaro John Barilaro and Cross-Border Commissioner Steve Toms. A NSW Department of Education and Communities spokesman confirmed Zac would be able to ride on the bus from Monday. "Extensive consultation has been undertaken between the Assisted School Travel Program, the mother, the school, ADHC [Aged, Disability and Home Care] and ACT education authorities. Ms Smith's son Zac has been assigned a transport provider and an Assisted Travel Support Officer," he said. Mrs Smith said the decision would help remove some stress from their lives and she was grateful for all the help she had received. "We've had so much support and everyone has been incredibly positive," she said. However, Mrs Smith said she believed nothing would have changed if she had not told her story publicly, even through she dreaded exposing her family. "It's such as shame we had to go to such extremes and it's quite extraordinary how everything gets done so quickly," she said. She said the department had also offered to take Kye to school in a taxi with a carer. However, she had to decline the offer because it could not confirm the same driver and same carer would be used, crucial to an autistic child who needed routine and familiarity. Mr Barilaro conceded the bureaucracy did not always work and sometimes created "unnecessary obstacles". That also frustrated him when the needs of the Smith family were so obvious. "There is no answer. As the Member for Monaro I am constantly asked to engage with departments on behalf of constituents, this is not the only area. At times, you just wonder, 'Why?'," he said. "The most important thing for me was that Janet Smith and her family got the support they wanted and needed. We've done that. I think there are still some questions to ask about process so other families don't have go through with what the Smiths have endured." from see also: