How Children With Autism Can Learn to Ride the Bus
Parents of children with autism desperately want their children to fit in at school and be liked by other children. Any parent wants that for their child and they are devastated when it does not happen. In the past children with autism were placed in different rooms, rode different buses to and from school and ate their lunch in a different cafeteria. As time has passed, many school systems are beginning to include more special education students into the mainstream classrooms as much as possible. This task can be challenging and does not always work, but the true hero's are the teachers who do not quit and find a way to make it work for the child.
One of the most gut wrenching things a mother does is put her child on the bus for the first time in either Kindergarten or in First grade. Many mothers tell stories about how they or their child are in tears and one or the other is rushing onto or off the bus. Having a child with autism usually means that this experience won't happen. Typically parents drop off their child at school or put on a special bus where they will not cause any harm to others or themselves. The question is, does this have to happen, or can a child with autism be placed on a bus and function.
The answer is yes it can happen, but it takes a lot of team work by every member of the team at school as well as the parent at home. In order for this to get off the ground, the parents and the teacher need to be on the same page. Discussions at home as well as in the school need to begin with the steps it will take to get the child into the routine of getting on the bus. Remember children with autism are very literal and for the most part keep a schedule in their head. Once a child begins to feel comfortable with these conversations, it is time to move on to the next step.
That next step is to have the child read or be read a social story that describes everything about the experience. All the details need to be covered. The color of the bus, name of the bus driver as well as all of the rules. If a child is verbal and can read, they need to be the one leading the story. This gives them a sense of empowerment and control over the situation.
After the social story has been read the school should slowly take the child through the steps of getting out to the bus. This may begin with the child taking only a few steps toward the door they would go out to get the bus. The next day go a little further until the child is on the bus. Have the child and the bus driver get introduced and get to know each other so that the child trusts the bus driver. Have the teachers prompt less and less and fade any instructions until the child can get on the bus themselves. Once they are comfortable then the child can start riding the bus home. All of the skills used during this period are those of Applied Behavior Analysis. Understanding the nuances of ABA will make this process easier.
Having buddies on the bus is a key component. Taking 2 or 3 order students and having them shadow the child keeps the bus safe and also helps ensure the the child with autism gets off the correct stop. Of the three children try and have one who gets off the previous stop, one who gets off the same stop and one who gets off a later stop. Having all three students and the bus driver aware of the child prevents any issues from coming up. These three students also can keep the child in check if he or she gets upset. They can alert the bus driver and keep the bus safe.
Having a child with autism does not mean that they need to keep away from others. With the right amount of help, many children with autism can flourish in a school setting. Having the right people trained the right way and having them be proactive is the key.