I cringed and my heart sunk as I thought we have gone so long without any incidents on any of the bus routes. Actually we haven’t had anything happen this school year at all and its March now and Johnny is on at least three different buses each day.
Before Johnny comes home, his afternoon teacher from the Social Skills / Communication group calls me back to let me know what happened. What I love about her is in both of her voicemail messages to me and speaking on the phone to her the first thing she wanted me to know is he is safe and happy and doing wonderful in their class and group. She told me how proud she is of him and the progress he is making and that even though something happened on the bus it did not effect his time with them at all. Okay…
I could tell that his teacher was ill at ease about what happened so I encouraged her to speak freely to me and that we had some belt unbuckling incidents last year during Johnny’s JK year that lead to the school board asking for a safety vest be placed on Johnny on the challenging route for “his” safety.
She told me that she got on the school bus like she does every time and the bus driver never says anything to her as usual and Johnny is sitting quietly waiting for her and she unbuckles him, gets his things and takes him off the bus. Today while she is unbuckling Johnny, the driver gets out of his seat which he has never done before and comes over looming over Johnny and says angrily.
“You don’t spit on the bus. No spitting on the bus.”
The teacher said she was stunned and then looked and did see a little puddle of spit and still the driver didn’t say anything to her but looked angry. Her first thought was to get Johnny off the bus as fast as possible and away from the tension and angry person. She took Johnny inside and talked to him about why we don’t spit but also that he needs to use his words with all people. She also told Johnny that the driver should not have yelled at him and that she would call Mommy.
I was so shocked when I heard this. When Johnny was 2-3-1/2 he used to spit into the air for 15 minutes to 25 minutes at a time just to watch the spray hit the air or watch what happens to his milk spray over the kitchen floor. He also used to make little puddles on the table with his drink as well so spitting is not what shocked me. The part that shocked me was that a grown man who drives children around would yell at a young five year old child. Yes Johnny has Autism and speech delay but that is not an excuse it only makes the offence even worse to me. The professional thing would be for him to quietly tell the teacher what is happening so that she can offer advise and have the bus company call me and alert me.
The teacher explained to me that she is not used to dealing with school bus drivers and usually only deals with small children transportation taxi services where drivers are dealing with more challenging children and how will stop and talk to her nicely about a child and ask for help. She was left feeling very unsettled and worried for Alexander and wanted to know if I could call the bus company and ask if the driver needed any strategies or visuals and to let them know that being angry at a child is wrong and even more upsetting because its a child with special needs.
I told her I would definitely be following up on this.
I have not met this driver on this route because he picks Johnny up at his regular school and then drops him off at a social skills private school two afternoons a week. The other three drivers that pick up or drop off Johnny are amazing men who are all very considerate and incredibly patient with the variety of children they transport. One driver who did not know that Johnny has Autism and just thought he was incredibly shy saw that Johnny was really anxious when he pulled up to his school because of a fire drill. He quickly suggested to the Education Assistant to play a little game called “Let’s do a fire drill on the school bus.” This peaked Johnny’s curiosity and the driver asked him if he had ever been shown the emergency exit door on the bus which he said “no.’ The driver and the Education Assistant then showed him how to exit out of the back door if he ever had to and only with the bus drivers assistance.
When Johnny was dropped off today I tried to look at his face closely and he was avoiding eye contact and keeping his face from me. I know that this means that he is anxious about something so I just try to joke about his afternoon and he quickly looks at me and smiles and says “I had fun.” When we reach our front door he sees the cordless phone outside on the ledge because I had just been talking to his teacher and he tells me “Mommy take this inside.” I tell him that Mommy was talking to his teacher about what a good boy he is and how well his is doing and how how happy we are about him. He liked that and smiled. I then took the plunge and said that his teacher told me about the spitting. He looked away and smirked a little and I reminded him of what the expectations are when he rides the bus.
“Your teacher also told me that the bus driver yelled at you.”
Johnny quickly locked his eyes with mine and I saw sadness in them and he said with a sad tone “yyyeess.”
He then points to the inside of his mouth and says, “dirt in there. I trying to get it out.”
“Even though its not nice to spit on buses, the bus driver should not have yelled at you and make you feel bad. That is not a good choice by him and Mommy will talk to him.”
I got a big hug after that.
One of the things I battle with parenting a child with Autism is that when he “does something”, a behaviour if you will, that some people make the assumption that he is doing something bad or worse “he is a bad boy.” I get so tired trying to explain “why” and I am sure some friends and family might think I am making excuses for his behaviour. The fact is Johnny has Autism and is not a typical child. He reacts differently to our environment and reads it very differently as well. All I ask is that everyone who deals with him tries to remember that the Autism is a part of him and when he does something to first see him as a child and then stop and ask themselves why he did that instead of jumping to conclusions.
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