Guest Author - Bonnie Sayers
While many portions of the United States are preparing their children to return to school this second week of August, we in California have three more weeks to prepare for this transition. My children just finished their six week sesion of autism summer daycamp.
My nonverbal son Matthew is moving onto Middle School and will be riding the bus along with his assistant. At this point we still do not know the bus schedule or even have the Physical Education uniform or the pants portion of the school uniform.
Currently the school is getting new pavement and it will not be ready for another two weeks to even take a tour. The last week of August is set for enrollment. I was told by office personnel that this takes place over four days with each family taking a number for their turn. I inquired about having the paperwork mailed to me so I could have it finished prior. Having my two kids wait will not be an easy task since I will have to rely on my thirteen year old son Nicholas to watch over Matthew while I fill out the papers.
It has been four years since I had to enroll my son into a public school so I am not sure what questions are listed on the forms. I do know there will be an Emergency Card to fill out so I will gather the information to help me with the form.
I was told to bring the IEP, birth certificate, immunization card and proof of address with me. Luckily I know where these documents are located. The Orientation for families is also being held the last week of August at 6 pm one night only. It turns out the uniforms will be available for purchase. I asked the price and was told they did not have that yet, but cash is the only method of payment.
I have been in contact with Matthew's assistant, who also needs to know the hours that the bus will be coming to my house for pickup so he knows what time to get here and when they return. I mentioned to the office clerk that there is not much time between the Orientation and Enrollment and the first day being September 3, 2008.
She could not tell me if my son is considered a student in the classroom since everyone was on vacation and not due back until August 18, 2008. I placed a call to the LAUSD transportation branch days ago with no call back yet. I wanted to see if they have access to the IEPs and know my son will be taking the bus along with an assistant.
I purchased Staying Safe On the School Bus thinking it would enable Matthew to see the steps needed to ride the bus. The book is part of the Weekly Reader Early Learning Library. This is a smaller sized soft cover book that utilizes real photographs of a girl riding the bus to school.
The photographs are on the right side of the book with the text on the left. The text is larger than the first page that has a note to Educators and Parents. Some of the text beside the photos has words in boldface to emphasize said word. Staying Safe On the School Bus contains twenty-four pages, including a glossary, index, about the author and website listings for more information.
My son has enjoyed looking through the pages seeing the kids interact on the bus. He takes his time flipping through the pages, which really does mean something since most books he flips through fast and furiously. The book begins with a girl standing at her front steps with her Mother. She is pointing toward the bus that is driving slowly along the street making its way to her house. She is excited for the arrival of the bus, wearing clothing that indicates her school does not have a uniform policy. She has on a white sweater that is buttoned with a pink backpack on.
It is hard to tell whether her Mother is trying to get something out of the backpack or just securing it, but the next photo has the girl carrying a pink jacket that was not visible on the first two pages of the book. I like that she is holding the jacket, but not too comfortable with her walking onto the bus with the backpack on since I have read of issues relating to accidents with the straps getting caught in doors of buses.
The text lets the reader know what the steps are according to the photos, "Wait for the bus on the sidewalk or grass." It is mentioned that students need to wait for the bus to come to a complete stop before you go near it. The girl is holding onto the handrail as she goes up the stairs of the bus. It shows the door already closed behind her. The next step is to pick a seat and stay there. Your hands and heads need to stay inside the bus and not out the open window. There should be no distractions to the busdriver like shouting or throwing things.
There is a photo with the students lined up ready to get off the bus. "Make sure your stuff does not get caught on the bus." The girl is once again carrying her jacket, yet it was not visible while she is riding the bus, so it is a mystery to the reader on whether it stayed on her lap or was placed in her backpack. The two pages at the start of Staying Safe On the School Bus had an arrow pointing to the sidewalk and handrail in the photographs, which were bold in text on their preceeding page. This was a nice visual support for the reader and adult to note when discussing the book in depth so these items were easy to identify. It would have been nice to stay consistent with this and mark other important things to help stay safe on the bus and street.
The last two pages of text with accompanying photographs have the students leave the bus so that the driver can see them and they are out of harms way. There is a stop sign with a speed limit noted as thirty for the other street. It appears to be a rainy morning as a line of abuot thirteen students proceed to cross a street with a car in front of the bus that has dropped them off.
My issues with this photograph is the lack of a school street sign with the information noted that when children are present the speed limit is 25. Also it lacks a school crossing guard or any type of adult from school to assist these students from the bus stop to their destination. I have never seen a bus drop kids off across the street from their school.
This is not an accurate portrayal of school bus and street safety. Lukcily my son does not realize there are details missing. The glossary words are not even discussed or visualized in the pages of Staying Safe On the School Bus - alarm, bulles, fire drill, practice and recess. I wonder why these were included without photographs to help identify them.
One of the books recommended by the author at the back of the book, Hello, School Bus! is one I had considered when purchasing these two, but the illustrations had little animals riding the bus so I passed on it. I should have gone with one of the Magic School Bus books since Matthew turned to look at them as I was searching amazon for the recommended books.
Another book I purchased School Bus did not really convey a message I was seeking. This is also a soft cover book with simple text and mostly photos of buses on the street. The illustrations show lots of older students getting off the bus at a building marked School, but it basically is showing lots of buses in and out of traffic. This book does have crossing signs and school signs. It does help drive the notion of taking a school bus to my son, but that is about all it does for our situation.
There does not seem to be a book portraying an assistant getting on the bus with the student or seatbelts. We may have to create our own with Nicholas doing the cover art work and actual photos of the steps Matthew will be going through.
It is still unclear to us whether Matthew can have a fidget for the ride to and from school, plus the fact that he will be thirsty and hungry on the drive home. Prior years at the Elementary School I would have a favorite video for him to hold on the ride home. Sometimes the gate was still locked and this caused a lot of stress for the students. There was a hole big enough for me to fit the video into so Matthew would not be as agitated. The past two years I brought a baggie of pretzels that he would start eating while still in the classroom, usually while I was talking to the teacher or assistant.
For the ride home from Camp there was his Rubber Maid Juice Box container of soymilk or rice drink plus cheese puffs. I think the puffs helped a loose tooth extract itself since the last week of Camp I found a tooth on the floor of the van, meaning maybe Matt spit it out. He needs that crunchy texture at the end of the day. I am contemplating having a separate lunch bag go with his aide in the morning that will be specifically for the ride home. Everything is dependent on the length of time he will be on the bus and the number of students and other assistants.
We will have to take into account if the assistant is absent. I may have to drive him myself instead of sending him on a bus with no assitant to guide and help him. This is a transition for all of us.
Strategies for students with autism - pdf on Ideas that work for the Bus.
SchoolBus and School zone safety kids page - NYS GTSC, NYS DMV. There are visuals and icons on this page that my son seemed to like viewing.
Community Tool Kit for Bus Drivers on autism Autism Speaks, pdf
School Bus Safety - Passenger Safety, Texas Cooperative Extension
Social Story on riding the bus and behaviors
National School Lunch Program
Special Needs Transportation - School Transportation News
Prepare for back to school season with these products
Educational Autism Tips for Families 71 page resourceful ebook for families entering the school system with a recent autism diagnosis. Find out what issues take place over the course of a school day and meet these challenges head on.