This is a post by Marianne Sullivan, a member of the Autism Speaks Family Services Team and mom to a 22 year old son with autism.
Like all youngsters who attend school, students with autism begin and end their day on the school bus. School Bus drivers play such an important role in helping students become part of the school community. Today I had the opportunity to interact with over 100 school bus drives across the country via an online webinar, organized by Vertical School Partners.
When preparing for the webinar, I couldn’t help but think about my own experience as a mom raising a son with autism. When Hunter was old enough to start school and take the bus, I had difficulty controlling my fear--would he be okay? How would he relate to other children? Would the bus driver understand his needs? etc. He was non-verbal and couldn’t ask for what he needed. He didn't like change and new situations created a daunting challenge at home so what might it be like on the bus? It seems as though I was waiting for “that” phone call: “Please come and pick up your son ASAP.” Expecting the worst back then, however, I am happy now to report that, overall, Hunter’s transportation to school was successful and it was in great part to the sensitivity and basic kindness of the bus drivers. Again I thank them for all that they do, especially to support students with autism.
Basic advice to the bus drivers begins with maintaining open lines of communication with the student’s family and their school team. Learning about the student’s specific needs will likely help avoid or manage upsetting situations. Ask the student’s school team to be included and updated on a student’s IEP. If a driver observes new or unusual behaviors, ask the school team to discuss them at the next meeting. Bus drivers are an important part of the team, and maximizing teamwork will create success. The more every member of the school community feels knowledgeable and empowered, the better able they will be to interact with a student with autism.
During the webinar, I presented training information specifically for bus drivers and transportation supervisors from our School Community Tool Kit: Things to Think About and Strategies for Success.
The opportunity to interact with school bus drivers and to be able to offer tips and suggestions was a highlight of my week!
The School Community Tool Kit contains many other sections to help members of the school community support students with autism, from custodial staff to recess aids to peers and more! Download the kit and learn more here!