Starting the School Day Off Right on the Bus With a Special Needs Child
Many parents seem to focus on schoolteachers when preparing for the first day of school. However, the truth for many children is that the first person they encounter may not be their classroom teacher—but rather the school bus driver.
Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are no different. Ensuring this step goes smoothly is extremely important for both you and your child.
Here are ten simple 10 tips to ensure the transition to and from school goes well.
1. Properly introduce the bus driver
Take the time to acquaint your child with the school bus driver. Find out how the driver wants to be addressed by your child. If the driver is a man, for example, does he want to be called Mr. Smith, Bob, or Mr. Bob? Children with autism do better when dealing with new people when they feel comfortable knowing what to call them.
This is also an excellent time for your bus driver to learn your child`s first name. If your child is non-verbal, uses a picture exchange system (PECS) or use sign language, this is also a great time to educate the bus driver on how to communicate with your child.
2. Inform the bus driver about your child’s autism
Don’t assume that your bus driver is aware of your child`s autism or that someone from the school has spoken to them. Even after informing your bus driver about your child’s autism, don’t assume he/she magically understands what that may mean for your specific child who has autism. Some bus drivers may already have had experience with students with autism.
Others may have no background experience with children who have autism. Any specific information in regards to your child’s behavior, means for communicating, how he/she responds to noisy environments, or how he/she responds to authority figures needs to be explained to your bus driver.
3. Emergency contact information
Be sure to share your emergency contact information with your bus driver, including your cell phone number or the number of your place of employment. That way in an emergency, the bus driver will have the means to contact you right away. It is essential that updated emergency information be maintained and given to the bus driver.
4. Assigned seating
Many school bus drivers may assign seats to students. If you feel that your child with autism may benefit by sitting at the front of the bus closer to the driver or towards the back of the bus, then share this information with your bus driver. Your student may have a preference on who he/she sits with, may not want to sit next to older students, or even not want to sit next to the window, etc. Many bus drivers are willing to make the necessary accommodations for children with disabilities if the rationale behind them is explained.
5. Substitute drivers
Many students with autism struggle with change. Arriving at the bus and finding that the regular driver is not on the bus can cause your child with autism to experience undue stress and anxiety. Asking to be informed of the presence of a substitute bus driver or being informed of their name is something that could be discussed at home with your child to help prepare them for a substitute driver.
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6. Emergency bus drills
Many busses practice emergency bus drills. However, transitions to such exercises can cause a child with autism to immediately escalate behavior. Practicing these drills at home can assist your child with autism in generalizing those skills to the actual bus during an emergency practice drill.
7. Designated personnel for pick up
There may be times when the parent is not able to pick up their child with autism from the bus stop. If a babysitter, neighbor, family friend, or even a family member needs to be present to pick up your child, the bus driver needs to be fully informed ahead of time. This is something that will give the driver some lead time to discuss with your child as they are traveling on the bus.
This may reduce your child’s anxiety and ensure him/her someone “safe” will be there for the bus. Be aware that many bus drivers are not allowed to leave the child unless the parents are waiting or within sight of the driver. Unless the driver has written permission or has been informed of a new person who is picking the child up, the driver may have to drop the child at the police station at the end of the route. This type of situation can become frightening for your child with autism. It can simply be avoided by maintaining good communication and contact with your child`s school bus driver.
8. Not following directions
As the parent of a child with autism, you know your child “best.” Many children with autism may follow directions but may not respond orally to questions. Some adults may view this as a form of disrespect or defiance. If you know that your child is likely not to respond orally to the bus driver, let him/her know.
Also, let the driver know the best way to approach your child when he/she is not responding. Some drivers may feel it is necessary to tap your child on the shoulder to get attention. However, some children with autism do not like to be touched so be sure to explain this to the bus driver.
9. Bullying on the bus
Children with autism are at an increased risk of bullying. Parents need to visit with their child`s bus driver to become better informed of the protocol that a bus driver follows if bullying occurs. Parents may need to request preferential seating for their child with autism. This may mean sitting at the front of the bus, closer to the driver or in clear view of the driver to keep them safe.
If a parent is aware of bullying, it needs to be reported immediately to the bus driver or the school administrator. Many busses are now equipped with cameras. This will be especially important in the event your child with autism is non-verbal or if he/she does not know the name of the child who is bullying them.
10. Celebrate your bus driver
It doesn’t have to be holiday time for you to acknowledge or show your appreciation to your local bus driver. The gift doesn’t have to be expensive. Your child could make a card for the bus driver. You could send some baked goods to the driver to show your appreciation. Even a written letter to the bus driver`s boss to explain in writing how much you appreciate how your bus driver is accommodating the needs of your child with autism will be appreciated by the driver. A little bit of kindness can go a long way. in
This article was featured in Issue 91 – Great Back-to-School Strategies