Sheffield bus driver snubs autistic student

Luke Askham
Luke Askham

A teenager with autism walked more than six miles to school after a bus driver refused to accept his valid travel pass.

Luke Askham followed the tram tracks on foot from Malin Bridge to the Cathedral before walking the 88 bus route from the city centre to Ringinglow Road.

The 19-year-old’s condition means he has to follow a routine – so he stuck to the route the tram and bus take. Luke even ran part of the way from his home in Wisewood to Bents Green School, for pupils with special needs, because he was so anxious not to be late.

New travel pass rules mean elderly and disabled people are no longer entitled to free bus and tram journeys before 9.30am.

But the council has made an exception for youngsters like Luke, who has been issued an ‘extension pass’ so he can get to school each morning.

However, the driver refused to let Luke travel for free – and he had no money to pay for a ticket.

Mum Joanne Bainbridge, 43, said: “He set off at 7.30am and he has obviously run, knowing he needs to be in school for 9am.

“He will have been panicking. We think he has part-run, part-walked because he was so sweaty, red raw and hot when he got to school.”

Luke has autism – a lifelong developmental disability which affects how he makes sense of the world around him.

“He needs a routine,” said Joanne, a ward assistant at the Jessop Wing.

“He has to follow that routine and once that routine is broken he is lost. When they refused him, he thought, ‘I will follow how the tram and bus would take me,’ which is the long way round.”

“It took me an hour to calm him down and make him realise it’s not his fault,” said Joanne.

“He was saying, ‘It’s my fault, I’m bad.’ He was really agitated and upset.

“I’m upset and extremely angry. My stomach has been churning.”

A spokesman for Stagecoach said: “We are very sorry for the inconvenience this has caused Luke and his family.

“Staff communications were carried out at the start of the week on this new extension pass.

“Unfortunately it appears that during the early part of the week there were isolated occasions when a small number of drivers and conductors did not accept it for use outside the concessionary travel times.

“We have since taken further steps to ensure all drivers and conductors are aware of the rules around this new travel pass.”

A spokesman for the National Autistic Society said: “The world can seem a very unpredictable and confusing place to people with autism, who often prefer to have a fixed daily routine so that they know what is going to happen every day.

“This routine can extend to always wanting to travel the same way to and from school or work, or eat exactly the same food for breakfast.

“Rules can also be important – it may be difficult for a person with autism to take a different approach to something once they have been taught the ‘right’ way to do it.”