Amy Mitchell

‘Joe needs his school’: Returning to school after lockdown

Are you prepared to send your children back to school in September? We spoke to a Scheme customer about preparing for the big return.

Scheme customer Julie Simpson is a carer for her 16-year-old son Joe who has autism and learning difficulties. Joe qualifies for the higher rate mobility component of the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and Julie, on his behalf, exchanges the award to lease a Motability Scheme car.

When it’s time to change their car, it’s Joe who picks the colour to encourage him to think of it as his car. It also makes the process of changing cars easier as children with autism struggle with any kind of change.  

This has inevitably made lockdown a very difficult time for Joe and his parents. For the whole time the country was in lockdown Joe has had to miss school. “He could’ve gone back as a vulnerable child but we didn’t send him as we didn’t think was fair on the bus driver and chaperone. We were afraid of him passing the virus on and putting school staff at risk,” says Julie. 

Returning to school

Joe attends a specialist school which offers provision for children with severe learning difficulties. He will be returning in the first week of September.

Joe Simpson- Back to School 2.png


“We’ve been in contact with the school,” says Julie. “They’ve kept in touch with us the whole time. Joe has been sent details of his teachers when he goes back so he knows who he’s going back to and who is in his class. Joe needs structure so I’m really pleased he’s going back. We’ve trusted the school and the headmaster to know that everything is ready and prepared for the children to return.” 

The importance of structure

Like many children unable to attend school it is not just the lessons that Joe has been missing but his friends too, some of whom have been shielding. His school is 13 miles from his home and he goes on a school bus which collects and brings him back every day. 

“Joe is okay about wearing a face mask. At first, he wouldn’t wear one but we found one he’s comfortable with and he knows he’s got to wear it and take with him to school in his little bag with his mask, tissues and hand sanitiser with him at all times,” says Julie.

For a carer, parent or family member of someone with autism, travelling via public transport or running an older, less reliable car can sometimes be challenging. Find out how the Motability Scheme can help.

Big germ monster!

It was understandably very tough during lockdown to explain to Joe what was happening and why he couldn’t go to school. Julie and husband Stephen had to use simple, easy language to help Joe come to grips with the massive change in his life. 

“I said there was a big germ monster that lives in the sky so he couldn’t go out. We worked out the language to use so Joe would understand it and worked,” she says. “We also told him he needs to keep an arm away from everyone so he knows how far he’s got to stand from people. That bit wasn’t so difficult as people with autism need more personal space.”

However, without regular schooling Joe has lost some of his communication skills. “He’s gone back to repeating things. He doesn’t talk in the present. We used to be able to build on his communication using what he’d learned at school but without that structure, he reverts sometimes to reciting Bob the Builder which was big when he was a baby. He’ll speak back in the voice of one of the characters,” says Julie.

Visual aids

“It’s such a shame as we worked so hard on his language. It’s like he’s gone back about seven years. He’s become obsessed with time. That’s how his anxiety is presented. We also had to go back to using visual aids and try to put a lot of structure into his day to make up for him not being at school,” adds Julie.

“We did what we could with his learning at home but Joe needs his school. It’s not just about lessons and communication it’s about seeing the same people, structure and friends.”

Their Scheme car has been an absolute godsend says Julie because when they couldn’t take Joe out and they were all getting a bit “stir crazy” they’d jump in the car and go for a drive with a route and maps all planned beforehand to add to the fun.

To find out more about how to join the Motability Scheme, request a free information pack below:

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