Seven Tips for Improving Your Child’s Autism School Bus Experience

Somebody Up There Likes Me
May 22, 2018

The ride to and from school can be a difficult and stressful process for children with autism. It sets the stage for the entire school day. It can mean the difference between smooth sailing or problem behavior. With good information and preparation for the bus, parents can help make a major difference in how well their children with autism perform in school. The following tips can help reduce many of the problems that may arise during their bus ride to and from school.

1. Communicate your child’s needs to the transportation staff.

As a rule, transportation staff are not informed of your child’s diagnosis, educational plan, or strategies unless you share that information directly. Think about the things that would be most important for them to know, such as what creates anxiety for your child and what calms them and consider sharing that information. Use POAC’s All About Me form to provide specific information about your child to the transportation staff. This simple form lets the staff know your child and what works best for them.

2. Contact your district’s transportation supervisor to recommend the advanced training offered by POAC for their staff.

POAC’s Bus Driver Training is specifically designed for drivers and aides who transport students with autism. While safety is at the core of the training, it is so much more comprehensive and addresses the specific needs of students with autism and how to troubleshoot and respond to problem behavior and other challenges. More importantly, it helps staff to understand how to avoid these issues before they happen. Thousands of drivers and aides have praised this training and it has made the bus ride a safer and more enjoyable experience.

3. Make a social story about the school bus experience.

A Social Story is a learning tool used for instruction and training of social skills. They consist of pictures and text (written or recorded) modified to the individual’s skill level and help prepare students to understand the expectations of a specific social event or situation. Pictello is a great app for making custom social stories on your smart device. You can use your own photos and voice to make stories about autism and riding the bus.  Speak with your child’s teacher for assistance in making your own social story. They can be a   very effective tool for increasing skills and awareness and decreasing anxiety.   

4. Connect with the driver and aide.

Get to know your transportation staff in the same way that you know all your child’s educational staff. The driver and aide are the first people your child will encounter every morning and that experience can set the tone for the day and sometimes for the entire school year. It’s important to see each other as individuals working together for a common goal–your child’s success.

5. Address any sensory issues.

Some children may love to be directly behind the driver. For others, it may be too loud. Consider sensory toys or fidgets that soothe your child. Speak with your OT about possible suggestions. Understanding and addressing sensory issues in advance is a great way to avoid problems before they happen.

6. Address challenging behavior ASAP.

If problem behavior on the bus is an issue, request the school to provide a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA, a specialist in behavior) to analyze the issue and come up with a plan for your child. Very often the underlying cause or function of the behavior can be very different from what it may appear to be on the surface. It’s crucial to get the help of a trained professional, especially if the student’s ability to ride the bus safely to and from school is compromised or at risk.

7. Use the Bus Driver Teacher Pipeline.child and the school bus ride

If your child is on a bus with only a few students let the driver and/or aide know about any issues or information that you would like the driver to pass on to the teacher, i.e., Johnny was out late last night, had a toothache, etc.

Bus drivers and aides are an integral part of your child’s education.  Work together to ensure that the hundreds of hours spent on the bus every year become a safe and enjoyable experience for all.

Gary Weitzen
Gary Weitzen
Gary Weitzen is the Executive Director of POAC Autism Services, which is the largest provider of free autism training and events in the state of New Jersey. Mr. Weitzen is a certified law enforcement instructor with the New Jersey Police Training Commission, member of the National Association of Search and Rescue, and serves as a Special State Officer on the New Jersey Governor’s Council for Medical Research and Treatment of Autism. In addition to his duties at POAC, for the past fifteen years he has worked for an autism program as a teacher of life skills to adults with autism. Mr. Weitzen, has served as the New Jersey representative for Unlocking Autism, and Vice President of Princeton Autism Technology, and comes to POAC with 20 years of experience in the risk management field. The Weitzen family story was featured with the Doug Flutie family on the country’s first screening tool for early identification and intervention of autism, First Signs. He has appeared on virtually every major network and local news station as an expert on autism and has given presentations to tens of thousands of people across New Jersey. Mr. Weitzen’s son, Christopher has autism and he has been a passionate advocate of children and adults with autism for close to two decades.
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