There are a lot of articles that talk about back-to-school for children with autism. Many of those articles (mine included) suggest you take your child for a sneak peek before school starts. Take the time to tour the school (especially if your child will be attending a new school) and meet the teacher. But, starting school for many children also means taking a school bus.
For children with autism, the ride to and from school on the bus can be stressful. They are noisy and crowded. There isn’t much personal space and your child might be confused about how to get on the bus or where to sit. Your child might worry about what is going to happen when he gets to school, he might worry that he won’t be able to find his classroom. If your child is on a special needs bus, the driver might be familiar with autism and other special needs and be prepared for different situations, such as agitation or meltdowns. But many children with autism won’t be riding in special needs buses. They will be getting on mainstream school buses. How do you help prepare your child for riding a school bus? The following ideas might help.
Contact your school district and ask if you can set up a time to tour the area the school buses are parked. Some school districts contract a bus company, if so, you might need to contact the bus company directly. Ask if your child can walk around the bus and practice going in and out of the bus.
Ask for a copy of the bus route. Check the route to see if anyone your child knows will be riding the same bus. Knowing a friend or neighbor will also be riding the bus can help put your child’s mind at ease.
Find out if children are assigned seats on the bus or if they sit wherever there is an empty seat. Talk to your child about locating an empty seat and that he might not get to sit in the same seat every day.
Find out if someone will be at the school to greet him and help him find his classroom. Schools often have teachers or aides meet the students for the first several days or weeks of school to help them learn what to do when the bus arrives at school. Ask the school who will be meeting your child, and, if you can set up a time for your child to meet him or her before the first day of school.
Use social stories to go through the process of taking the school bus. You can find some social stories about riding the school bus online, for example MJ Rides the Bus Safely or Riding the Bus. You can use these or create your own to match your child’s situation.
Drive the bus route to school. Have your child come along so the route is familiar to him. As you drive, remind him about school bus safety rules. There is also an online video that goes over school bus safety for children.
Take a virtual tour of a school bus. Thomas Bus company has a virtual tour of a school bus that might make your child feel more comfortable in the new surroundings.
As a parent of a child with autism, you might be just as nervous about your child’s first ride in the school bus. Make sure you have all the pertinent information on hand, such as what time the bus arrives, what time it reaches school, the name of the bus driver, who will be meeting your child at school and where your child will go when he arrives at school. Find out the same information for the ride home so you know when you should be outside to meet the bus. The more information you know, the more you can adequately prepare your child.
To help alleviate your fears, have a list of emergency numbers, such as the bus company and the school district. If any problems do arise, you will know exactly who to contact. If you need to talk to the bus driver, keep your conversation short, remember the bus is on a schedule and there are children at other bus stops waiting for the bus to arrive. Stay positive about your child’s new experience, if you remain nervous, so will he. If you remain fearful he will think there is something to be afraid of. If you find your child is having problems on the bus, request an IEP or Section 504 meeting to have these issues addressed.
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.