Laurie, a high school girl with Down Syndrome, has presented our biggest transportation problem thus far for our district. Yet, I can say with a smile, that with teamwork and strategizing, Laurie can now endure a twenty minute bus ride without any commotion.
In brief, Laurie needed to be transported to a vocational/special educational school every day. Although we had a one-on-one aide assigned to ride the bus with Laurie, it didn't stop her from removing her shoes and whipping them at the football players in the back of the bus! Laurie would then call them names for the entire bus ride. We tried a variety of techniques and nothing worked. Laurie's mom even offered to ride the bus, but we felt there had to be another way to encourage Laurie to behave appropriately.
Then one day the answer was right before our eyes! While waiting for the bus, one of the football players was listening to country music and asked Laurie if she wanted to hear the song. When he gently placed the ear piece in Laurie's ear, a huge grin came across her face and she began moving to the music. The student let Laurie listen to the music for the entire bus ride and she was in her own happy world. The following day, we had music ready for Laurie and it worked! In addition, we discovered she loves to do word search puzzles.
When the CSE/IEP team determines that a student with special needs will benefit from a program outside of the school district, transportation needs to be addressed. The same is true if the child has to daily ride the bus to and from school. Some students with special needs won't need any special accommodations, and others students like Laurie, will need a plan in place to ensure the student's safety and the safety of the other students.
Here are some considerations when discussing transportation needs of a child with special needs:
- Determine whether or not an aide is needed for the bus. Some buses already have a bus monitor, but is there a need for an adult to sit with or near the special needs student? The need for an aide isn't always due to behavior, it could be for a physical need. If the CSE/IEP deems that an aide is needed, it should be included in the IEP.
- Train the adults on the bus. The bus driver, bus monitor if there is one, and the one-on-one aide all need to be trained on transporting students with special needs. The training should be upbeat and staff should be looking forward to working with all students.
- Utilize a behavior chart. Depending on the child's needs and personality, many students with special needs respond well to a behavior chart. For little kids, it might mean using stickers and for older students using tally marks. After so many stickers or tally marks, the child is given a small reward for good behavior. For a high school student with behavioral issues, a behavior contract could be utilized.
- Find out what the student enjoys doing. If the student has a special bag that contains music, puzzle books, a squishy ball, or whatever he or she enjoys while traveling, it can make all the difference in how the bus ride goes.
- Keep good communication with the parent. A parent needs to know that transportation is going well. Then on the occasion when there is a concern, it can be discussed and a new strategy can be tried if needed. If you only contact a parent when there is a problem, then it might cause the parent to be on the defense or feel hopeless.
- Determine which mode of transportation is most appropriate for the child. Some older students with special needs will travel better if they are with younger students. They don't feel intimidated or that students are staring at them. In some cases, a student just can't handle riding on a large bus and will need to be transported by a small bus or school vehicle.
As we discovered with Laurie, you might need to try a variety of things before you find a strategy that works. Keep your sense of humor and stay positive. Once you discover the right combination, transporting a child with special needs can be very rewarding. What types of things have you tried that have worked for your child?