When my daughter Katie switched to yet another school district back in February 2013, she once again was slated to ride the special needs “short bus.” The two school districts, however, didn’t share bus service, so after a month of my driving back and forth twice a day, she began to take a taxi to school. Yes, a taxi. I was hesitant at first, but a taxi ride is quicker and easier on Katie’s often over-taxed sensory system. Plus a taxi has far better air conditioning. So now I actually prefer it to the bus.
When Katie started with the taxi, she had an array of extremely solicitous Middle Eastern drivers who doted on her. They chatted with her, shared their snacks with her, and even on one occasion, bought her balloons! Katie loved it. Then she began having a driver called Mike. He didn’t chat or share his soda. He didn’t get out of the car and hold open the door with a flourish the way the others did. He wasn’t even friendly to either me or Katie, and as a result, he annoyed both of us. Katie didn’t want to get in the taxi when Mike drove, and I suspect he felt the same way. His discomfort was palpable.
Mike began driving Katie to and from school more frequently, and finally Katie lost it on a drive home. The dispatcher called, and I reluctantly gave her my impressions. “It’s a personality conflict,” she said matter-of-factly. “It happens. I’ll switch Katie to a new driver.”
My relief turned to annoyance when Mike showed up the next day and the next. The dispatcher had said she couldn’t guarantee he would never drive Katie, but now he was driving all the time! I waited for things to change, but they never did. Somehow instead of going away, Mike had become Katie’s permanent driver.
After two weeks I was ready to complain, but to my surprise, Katie and Mike worked things out. As Mike became more relaxed and friendly, Katie turned on the charm. Soon the two of them were buddies. Even better, Mike would pass messages to the aide at school at drop off and report back to me on how the school day went. He even started telling me when the aide had trouble getting Katie in the taxi. “She said it was because Katie didn’t want to leave school, but Katie calmed down the minute we left so I think that was B.S.” I’d ask how the ride home went and Mike would say no problem. “I turned on the music and we rocked out together.”
Like Katie, I began to see Mike as a friend and ally.
When school started this year, both Katie and I were happy to see Mike after a month off. Yet after a few weeks, different drivers replaced Mike more often than not. Katie wasn’t happy, but she tolerated this change. Finally the dispatcher called to tell me that Katie would have a new permanent driver. Abdul is nice, but he and Katie clearly have a few things to work out.
Yesterday, on Katie’s late-start morning, Mike was once again in the driver seat. I smiled as soon as I saw his big grin, and Katie eagerly flung herself into the backseat. Before I could prompt, she said, “Hi, Mr. Mike.”
Mike informed me that he had arranged it so that he could take Katie to school after his regular Wednesday morning route. I thanked him and he said, “No need. I did it because I missed her.”
Katie, who had been bouncing happily on her seat, stopped and said, “I missed her, Mr. Mike.”
Before I could correct her grammar, Mike turned around. “Katie, that’s the nicest thing anyone has said to me all week. Give me five!” The two exchanged a series of high fives and happily departed for school.
I was surprised when Mike dropped her off that afternoon. He said he’d drive every Wednesday from now on. “It’s my favorite part of the day, driving Katie.”
It was all I could do to keep from crying as I thanked him. Mr. Mike, yet another person I never would have met if not for autism. Yet another person who now “gets” autism thanks to my charming daughter. Yet another little miracle on the journey that is my unplanned life.
Until next time,