– It is better to be left at school by the bus than left on the bus –
When that is the kind of perspective you have to search for, something is way wrong.
It’s a mistake to assume that an experienced special needs school understands teen and adult autism.
Sadly, I have seen in the media at least a couple of times where special needs students get left on the bus, buckled into their seat, for the entire day. Some students are non-verbal and incapable of unbuckling independently. Sadly, in at least one of the stories I read about, the student didn’t survive. Luckily, in another case I heard about, the weather and temperature were favorable, and after an evaluation at the ER, the student appeared to have no serious physical ill-effect.
Shortly after I went back to work after taking two months off to help Jess adjust to her new school setting, there was another change. Teacher #2 took a different position and Jess got teacher #3. Jessica was having more negative behaviors at school since starting there than she had in all of her previous school years. She had begun hitting people at school and was even urinating in her clothes at school and at home.
Also, we were experiencing ongoing issues with transportation. On her first day of school, I had actually heard the bus driver rudely yell at Jessica that she couldn’t talk on her phone while on the bus. If that’s a rule, that’s a rule. But, was it necessary to be so hateful to Jess on day one? Then, three weeks into school, following a bad day in the classroom, Jess acted up on the bus, and the driver had told me she was going to write Jess up. Forget all the anxiety at school, the transportation interaction was stressful all by itself. Another autistic adult student that Jess had gone to high school with had to quit going to this school because of bus issues; eventually the school refused to continue transporting him.
Months later, while I was working at the hospital one day, I got a call around 4:30 from my mother. To this day, I can remember where I was standing at the nurses’ station when I answered. “Everything is okay,” she started off, knowing I would be worried that she was calling me while I was working. “We are on our way to pick up Jessica.”
Since the bus usually dropped Jessica off around 3:30, I asked for clarification, and my mother proceeded to tell me that the bus driver had deliberately left Jess at school. The driver had insisted that Jess get back off of the bus because she had been screaming, and then the driver just left her there.
I don’t know where she was left or who they left her with, but it was not with anyone that knew her. At least an hour later, Jess managed to call my sister and tell her what happened. When my parents arrived at the school to pick her up, Jess had been reunited with someone from her classroom. The very nice lady said it was lucky she had still been at the school, that usually she would have already been gone for the day.
Equally disturbing – NEVER did I get a call from the facility about this issue. Not when it happened, and not later. Not ever.
The ongoing discord with the bus staff continued one day during a severe thunderstorm. As the bus driver pulled up in front of the house and impatiently blew the horn, I grabbed my umbrella and ran out. The frustrated driver opened the door and snapped, “We’ve had a LOT of trouble out of Jessica on the way home.” I could barely hear what was being said because of the noise of the thunder, the complete downpour of rain, and the motor of the bus. However, I definitely heard it firmly stated, again, that they would have to “write her up.” As Jess walked down the steps to exit, she impressively expressed to me, “Mama it’s because of the storm.” I apologized to the driver and told her I would talk to Jessica about it.
As we quickly walked back to the house during the severe storm, I immediately wondered, “Why did I feel like I had to grovel in order to keep transportation available?” when in fact, I was extremely concerned at the obvious lack of understanding of autism on the bus and at school.
Although I had been dealing with issues like this Jessica’s whole life, I had not become hardened by the experiences. I was still crushed every time something didn’t work out. Every time, I asked myself, is she really so different from every other special needs person that most people truly can’t understand her?
My heart continued to break a little more every day.
Typical for autism, Jessica finds it nearly impossible to cope with even the most minor changes in routine. Yet, the constant instability at school continued. Not too long after the bus incident, the classroom helper, who had been so sweet to Jess, left the classroom to be with teacher #2. Following that, teacher #3 decided that classroom wasn’t for him, so he left. Then, teacher #4 came into the picture. The situation was hopeless.
Now was it time to give up?