Posts Tagged ‘ Kids with special needs on buses ’

Are You Prepared For A School Bus Strike?

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

This is a post in the weekly Autism Hopes series by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, a mom who blogs over at AutismWonderland.

I will never forget the first day I put my son, Norrin, on a school bus. He was two years old, his book bag straps kept falling off his shoulders, he had no language and he was still wearing diapers. Norrin’s been on a school bus ever since (he’ll be seven in a few days). He’s never gone to a school within walking distance. And most of the special needs children I know are taken to school by bus. It’s a service so many parents rely on. And I never even thought about what I would do if that service abruptly stopped. Not until recently anyway.

New York City students and families are being impacted by a school bus strike – 152,000 students to be exact, with a significant amount being students with special needs.

Norrin is one of those students. And on Day Two of the strike, our family is already struggling.

I work full-time outside of the home as a Legal Administrative Assistant, my husband is a Court Officer – we don’t have the kind of jobs where we can work from home. Norrin’s school is twenty miles away – far from public transportation. We have a car but I don’t know how to drive. If I were to take Norrin to school on my own it could take up to two hours in commuting (by bus, train and a short cab ride) or a thirty minute cab ride (about $75 each way).

But getting Norrin to school isn’t really the problem.  It’s picking him up – that’s the issue. It interferes with work and after school therapies. I’ve spent this last week trying to weigh all my options in the event of a school bus strike. And we’re still trying to figure out the logistics and put together our contingency plan. But the reality is, there are no easy options. I’ve already used two vacation days to stay home – not sure how much longer we can last. The last strike was in 1979 and it lasted three months.

Can you imagine if your special needs child missed three months of school because of a bus strike?

I’m hoping it doesn’t last that long. Because Norrin cannot miss three months of school or services.

But this strike has been an eye opener. I realized that I don’t have the contact information for any of Norrin’s five classmates. And even though Norrin does well riding trains and buses – I’ve never taken him up to school by myself. I haven’t even made the  trip on my own. I love Norrin’s school, it was well worth the fight to get him there but I wish it were closer. I wish I had the ability to drop him off and to connect with other parents. Once things get back to normal, I’m going to reach out to the parents of Norrin’s classmates.

I’m home with Norrin and we’re ready to head out – maybe to the zoo or the museum. But I want to hear from you.

Are you impacted by the NYC School Bus Strike? What are you doing? For more strike information and reimbursement forms – please click HERE.

And if you’re not in NYC but you depend on a school bus to transport your child to and from school – do you have a Plan B if busing was no longer an option?

 

photo credit: Caitlinator via photopin cc

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8 Back To School Tips That Will Help Your Special Needs Child

Thursday, August 30th, 2012

This is a post in the weekly Autism Hopes series by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, a mom who blogs over at AutismWonderland.

Four years ago I put Norrin on the school bus for the first time. He was still in diapers and he had no language. The autism diagnosis was still so new. I had no idea what to do or what to expect. I was scared but had no choice but to send him to school and put him on the bus.

Next Wednesday he’ll be back on the school bus, off to still a fairly new school. And just because I’ve been putting him on a bus and sending him to school since he was a practically a baby, it doesn’t get any easier. But I’ve learned some things since that first September. Things that have made a difference to make Norrin’s transition easier, to help his teacher understand him better and to put my mind at ease.

Here are a few tips that make the back to school transition a whole lot smoother. And I got some blog pals to share what they’ve learned too.

  • The Introduction Letter. I’ve been doing this for the last few years. I write an introduction letter to the main teacher and one for each therapist. My letter includes: diagnosisprogress made over the last yearusual dispositionstrengthsweaknessesactivities he enjoysactivities that are frustratingitems he’ll work forour concernsany self stimulating behaviors (what he does/when he does it/how we redirect him), goals that mean the most to us and contact information. But there’s no one set laundry list of what to include in your letter. (One year, I listed all the words Norrin knew how to say.) Tweak your letter and add information that is critical for your child.
  • Get contact information for bus driver and matron. Your relationship with the bus driver and matron is just as important as your relationship with your child’s teacher. Be sure to exchange contact information immediately. Ask for their names and remember them. Let them know if your child likes to sit by the window or gets car sick – anything that will make the ride to school easier for everyone. This year I plan on trying something new. I’m going to greet the bus driver and matron with gift card for a local coffee shop. It doesn’t need to be much, just enough for a coffee and sweet treat. I want them to know how much I appreciate them.
  • Know who is in your child’s class. On the second or third day of school, I ask the teacher for the names of the other students. It’s rare that Norrin tells me who he’s played with or sat next to and most times he just blurts out random names. When I know the names of his classmates, I use that in our conversation to try and figure out Norrin’s day.
  • Provide book suggestions. If you have a young child in a “typical” public school or in an inclusion class, provide some material to educate the other students. Two books I really like are This is Gabriel Making Sense of School and My Friend with Autism. Both books are written in a clear and simple language for children to understand the diagnosis and let them know what to expect from your child.

More tips from a few blog pals:

  • Jean Stimey Winegardner of Stimeyland: Make sure your child’s IEP is being followed. Your child’s IEP is a legal document and his school has to follow it. At your first meeting with your child’s teacher, tell her that you will stop by or email at the end of the week to see if she has any questions specific to the IEP after she has read it. Being clear about your expectations from the beginning makes any relationship easier. For more of Jean’s tips click HERE.
  • Flannery Sullivan of The Connor Chronicles uses the reward system and keeps weekly track of good behavior with this really cool chart.
  • Hartley Steiner of Hartley’s Life with Three Boys put together this amazing Sensory Accommodations Checklist for teachers. Download a PDF copy of Hartley’s Sensory Accommodations Checklist.
  • Tim Tucker of Both Hands and a FlashlightDon’t push your child toward new skills or goals until they get settled into school. For example, if you’re working on getting your child to look people in the eyes more, don’t push that when school starts. Your goal the first week of school is just to get back into the routine and see where things are. For more Tim’s strategies click HERE.

 

Every year is different and I still start every school year not knowing what to expect. But I take comfort in knowing what to do to set my child up for a successful school year.

 

Care to share your back to school tips?

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The Horrifying Neglect Of Kids With Special Needs On School Buses: This Has Got To Stop

Monday, August 22nd, 2011

One morning, a 19-year-old with Down syndrome boards a bus for her first day of school. She is nonverbal, particularly so since her mother died of breast cancer a few months ago.

Her grandmother, who puts her on the bus, trusts that the driver will safely transport this teen to school. Only this is what happens: The girl never ends up making it off the bus. Five hours later, the grandmother gets a call from the school asking why her granddaughter did not show up. The premises are searched. The bus driver, now on his afternoon route, is called.

The girl, it turns out, is still on the bus, sleeping and unharmed. The driver had left the bus parked in a terminal for hours between shifts, with her inside, undetected.

If this sounds like some made-for-TV movie, sadly, it is not. It happened in Crestwood, Illinois last week. The driver has been fired, and the Alpha School Bus Company is under investigation.

Even more shocking: This is the fourth incident this summer of a student with special needs getting left on a bus.

The same thing happened on August 10 to a six-year-old boy with Down syndrome in Phoenix, Arizona. The high that day was 105 degrees; the inside of the van would have been even hotter. The child was in the van for at least an hour, possibly longer. He was unable to unlock his seat belt.

The same thing happened on July 29 to to a 6-year-old child with autism in Dania Beach, Florida. The bus’s surveillance camera shows the driver and aide getting off the bus without checking the seats to see if any children were still there.

The same thing happened on July 20 to a four-year-old boy with special needs in Jersey City, New Jersey who was headed to a summer program. He was in the bus for four hours before a bus company mechanic discovered him. It was another sweltering hot day.

The same thing happened on May 11 to a three-year-old boy with autism in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He was alone on the bus, strapped in, for six hours.

Keep Googling and you’ll also find incidents of this happening during wintertime as well.

The 19-year-old girl and children were OK, although several were dehydrated and needed hospitalization. Drivers and aides were arrested, some charged with neglect.

This is all horrifying—and outrageous. Forget the fact that a lot of these kids are on small buses, which are even easier to check than the large kind. These drivers and aides are entrusted with a tremendous responsibility. As amazing as these kids and teens with special needs may be, they are vulnerable. Some of them cannot speak. Some are in wheelchairs. Some do not have enough cognition to know the name of their school. Some have medical conditions that make them more prone to overheating.

There is no excuse for a driver or aide to neglect the simple task of checking buses to make sure all kids are off. Set aside the fact that these jobs are not well paid; if you take the job, you take the responsibility. Perhaps bus companies need to do a more thorough screening job for hires. And they need to be extra rigorous about making sure employees follow procedures.

Installing video cameras on buses that transport kids with special needs, and having supervisors review them to make sure drivers or aides always sweep the bus to look for left-behind children, could help weed out negligent personnel. Schools can help, too, by having bus monitors also check buses. And they should alert parents as soon as child does not show up at school. That’s why my son’s school does, every single time.

Perhaps the law needs to up the ante, too, charging drivers and aides not just with neglect but with child abuse as well. Because leaving a child in an inferno of a bus is child abuse. For once, I’d like the law to rise to the occasion before a child dies.

I’m going to be putting my son on a bus in a couple of weeks for his first day of school. I know his drivers, and trust them, and for that I feel lucky. It is upsetting to picture these children, alone on a bus, hot, miserable and scared.

Children on buses are the most precious cargo on the road. They should be treated as such.

Photo/istock

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