Today was the first day that Johnny gets to ride the long school bus like all the other children at his school. Why is this big thing? Well the small school buses are usually used in our district to transport special needs children and children in special programs to pick them up and drop them off right to their houses or another school. The long school bus has a specific route in our neighbourhood where parents wait for their child to get off at specific stops. When Johnny began school in Junior kindergarten and was nonverbal I did not know then if he would ever get to ride the regular bus with all the other children because how could he communicate? How could he be safe? I wondered, how could he be independent and also feel truly included like he is throughout his school day with the other children , if at the end of the day he has to go be segrated and taken and put on special transport for safety reasons.
If you have been reading my blog for awhile you will know that there has sadly been a challenging history in regards to school busing Johnny to and from school (s). He was Autistic, nonverbal, and only 4 years old and he was being asked to juggle regular junior kindergarten as well as a special needs adapted kindergarten all while slowly losing his Grandfather who lived with us to cancer. I began with “Little Houdini and the School Bus Adventure” where Johnny was kicking the bus drivers seat, banging the windows of the bus, unbuckling his seat belt, getting out of the belt even thought it has a safety cap on it and walking about the bus. All of that sadly led to Introducing the Vest , a safety harness that the school board’s transportation department insisted that Johnny wear if he was going to be allowed to ride their school buses. In hind sight we should have never let ourselves be backed into a corner on this and we should have figured out a way to change Johnny’s behaviour after figuring out why he was doing what he was doing. After all when you are nonverbal, behaviour is another way of communicating. At the end of the school year we gave the vest back to the board and decided we will never put it on Johnny again. Johnny was in Senior Kindergarten and a I wrote, “It’s Alright on the Bus” now because we now had a better understanding and insight into why the behaviours were happening in the first place. In September, when the first school bus driver tried to hand us the safety cap for the buckle we politely told him it is not needed and we will take full responsibility. It is not needed ever again. It was near the end of Johnny’s Senior Kindergarten year when I had to write about “It Happened On the Bus” and his afternoon social skills communication group teacher tearful tells me on the phone that “there was a spitting incident on the bus but Johnny’s alright.” She is very upset which then leads to “Its Time To Speak Up” where I write about what Johnny’s Daddy was compelled to write to the transportation department about the expectations a parent has of the school bus drivers and the transportation department policies when handing over their Autistic child to be transported to and from the school (s) .
So what has changed? Johnny is seven now, showing that he wants to do things independently, and he’s talking. He also has his little sister who is 4-1/2 going to school with him now. In the morning the small school bus still stops in front of our house and Johnny still gets on but his sister gets to ride too. The problem was at the end of the day Johnny’s school day was ending earlier then his sister’s at 2:30 and her day ended at 3pm. In the kindergarten years Johnny was only attending half days because of therapy sessions elsewhere and in Grade 1 we knew that after 2pm on some days he was needing a re-charge after a long day of trying so hard to be in the regular Grade 1 class and learning to speak. But now he is in Grade 2 and he has proven that he can handle the challenges of the inclusive classroom and the regular curriculum as well as the extra things he is learning in the ISP Autism room so why is his day still ending sooner? I did some exploring and I am not sure if its actual policy or more a matter of convenience but the special needs children are dismissed from school early to board the small school buses to avoid the business of a 3pm dismissal as well as clear the street in front of the school of the small buses for the larger long buses. What I was left with was one small school bus was picking up Johnny at 2:30pm and another small bus was picking my daughter up at 3pm. At first the solution was that my daughter was going to be dismissed at 2:30pm so she could go home with her brother. Johnny’s Daddy and I and his Grandparents were not happy with either solution and instead we advocated to the Principal that we want BOTH of our children to be in school until the 3 o’clock bell and that 2 buses going to our house is wasting school board money. Truth be told at this point I was ready to say that I would walk for 20 minutes to the school everyday and pick up the children at 3pm because we believed that both Johnny and Princess should be in school for the same amount of time as all the other children. So when I got a call from the Principal’s office that I needed to have a chat with her about busing I was prepared for bad news. Instead I’m happy to report that she is a proponent for having the kids in school for the full time allotment and agreed with us that two buses was a waste of money. Her solution if we were comfortable with it was to have the kids travel home on the long bus. The EA who works with Johnny would be in charge of taking Johnny to Princess’s classroom and picking her up and taking both children to the bus. She felt that Johnny was ready to be more independent and to be a mentor to his little 4 year old sister.
I was so happy. This was huge! Ever since Johnny went on his first long bus on a school field trip in Junior Kindergarten when he was 4 years old he told me with word approximations that I could understand that “I wan te go ah be bu Ma Ma.” My heart broke because I knew that all the other students would be able to do that but they all could talk and they were not Autistic. After numerous times of attempting to tell me about how much he wants to go on the big bus after watching for it go down the street as we waited for his small bus I decided to tell him:
“One day when you are older and you can talk…talk a lot. I am sure you will get to go on the big long bus like all the other children. Right now let’s enjoy the small buses that take you right to your house because the other kids don’t get to do that.”
Pinch me because this afternoon as I waited on the sidewalk with all the other parents a big long bus pulled up to the curb and sitting on the right side of the bus at the front I could see my little girl at the window and looking over her shoulder with a big smile was Johnny. I motioned for them to stand up and get up because unlike the small buses the kids are suppose to get off on their own and not wait to be unbuckled by parents. When Johnny is about to descend the stairs he stands and takes a good look at the front of the bus and then at me and gives me another big smile.
“Mommy…..I rode on the big bus today.”