Johnny is back at school and he is back to riding the small school buses again. He has a complicated schedule where some days he is taking 2 buses and other days he is taking 3 buses. When we began this school year one of the promises Johnny’s Daddy and I made to each other was that Johnny will never be subjugated to “the vest” again. You can read about the vest here: http://wp.me/p1KVmo-kC
We still can’t believe that circumstances escalated to the point of safety locks being used and a safety vest on one route. In the last year we have had only one incident in our car where Johnny unbuckled his seat belt and after explaining to him what is expected from him while riding in the car we gave him a stern warning about the consequences of de-buckling in a moving vehicle. It never happened again.
What we have learned?
Johnny likes to know where he is going and doesn’t like deviations from the planned route. He is very good at memorizing new routes with only one visit and detours make him get upset and anxious. He’ll start saying “Mommy…Mommy” in a very worried voice that has a warning tone in it too. It was hard during the summer with all the road work and having to suddenly make a quick decision and go a different way. I would keep calm, simplify my speech and even pull over until things were settled and he understood what everything was okay. If the bus driver started picking up new children and changed the route abruptly without telling Johnny I could see this leading to challenging behaviours.
Johnny is a curious boy and likes to be an explorer and go a different route but the catch is it has to be HIS decision and idea. I’ll often hear from the back of the car “go this way” “down here Mommy’ . Sometimes I’ll make a request and decide to see where he is taking me and tell him its his turn to navigate which makes him very happy.
Whether its at home, in the classroom or on the school bus a child never “just does something” to be “bad.” There is always more to it and if your child is seen as Autistic and non-verbal then people start making assumptions. If the other children on the bus were being too loud or the windows on the bus were open it was too loud this would upset him too and he would do something to get the drivers attention. I always ask “did you ask Johnny what is wrong?” I am surprised at the answer I usually get. If no one ever asked my opinion when I was upset I can’t imagine I’d feel calm cool collected but instead the polar opposite.
What are we doing different?
First we made a promise to ourselves to stay on top of things and advocate strongly for Johnny’s dignity. We were very positive about the school bus experience and we were very clear on what we expected from Johnny going to and from school. We also used social stories over and over to further help teach him this. We also had to take a deep breath and make sure we reported any very disruptive children on the bus because in the end Johnny can’t yet effectively so its up to us.
We use everyday inexpensive head phones that we use on the airplane on the morning bus where there are lot of little kids. They really don’t do anything but we are playing a pretend game with Johnny and they give him comfort that we are trying to help. I don’t want him to be using a big ear muffs for safety reasons and I want him to slowly get used to the everyday commotion on a school bus.
Johnny is also happier this school term. We have changed up his schedule with more variety of activities this year in the afternoon. Only 2 afternoons at school working on social communication, one afternoon where this is Speech therapy, one afternoon where he goes to OT and one free afternoon. He is arriving home earlier on his 2 full days so in the end he is getting to spend more time with him Mommy and little sister and being out in the community and its leading to a much happier little boy.
As far as I know Johnny is the only child on his afternoon routes so he is happy, quiet and content. The drivers all take care of him and one even taught him what to do if an emergency happened and they had to use the emergency doors. For a little boy who has lots of toy school buses and even watches a video of “how school buses are built at the factory” this must have been so much fun. The best moment came yet yesterday when Johnny was dropped off and the bus driver said good bye to him and wished him a happy weekend because he wouldn’t be seeing him on Friday because the kindergarten classes are going on an all-day field trip. Johnny gave him a big smile and spontanously launched himself and gave the bus driver a big bear hug. The bus driver had tears in his eyes and he reached into his pocket and gave Johnny a handful of lollipops and said “thank you.”
No…thank you Mr. bus driver for making my son this happy.