Next Tuesday: That's when Charlie will start taking the bus home from the Big Autism Center to our house. Yesterday morning Jim and I met with Charlie's teacher, a school behaviorist and the principal to discuss some strategies.
We've been Charlie back and forth to the BAC since he started there last November. Since December of 2005, he has mostly been taking the bus to and from school. He rode in a minivan-bus when he attended a small private autism school about 45 minutes from our house from December 2005 till June of 2006. From then till around June of 2009, Charlie rode a yellow school bus to the three different (two elementary, one middle) schools he attended in the central New Jersey town we were living in.
The bus was a non-issue until middle school which started at 8am, meaning that Charlie had to catch the bus at 7.15am----and of course 2008, when he started middle school, coincided with the onset of puberty for Charlie, a major growth spurt, and a great deal of difficulty for him to wake up in the morning. Charlie had more and more trouble getting up and was not happy when he dragged himself onto the bus which (of course) often came early and brought him to school early, so he had to sit on the bus and wait for his teachers. On a few such mornings, Charlie got very upset. And, at the end of the day, a couple of times his then-teacher called me to pick him up because they didn't think he should take the bus home. Finally, Jim and I just said we would drive Charlie and continued to do so when he started attending the BAC, to help him transition and because there are a lot of stations (if I may call them that) along the route that have been sites of Charlie having a major neurological storm in the car.
Jim and I have been wanting Charlie to start taking the bus for summer school. We were informed that arrangements had been made for Charlie to start taking the bus on the first day. But we figured he needed a lot more preparation before finding himself on a potentially longish bus ride that would take him on the highway, without a say in which direction the bus goes and no stops for after-school snacks.
Charlie's teacher and behaviorist have some good strategies:
- instructing the bus drive and bus aide about how best to interact with Charlie
- a social story to be read to Charlie prior to him getting on the bus and also throughout the day
- a schedule (ride the bus, go home, have a snack, ride my bike) that Charlie would be given prior to getting on the bus
- something to do on the bus
- something motivating that he can only use while riding the bus (maybe a string of worry beads to hold or squishy ball?)
- a token or reward system for riding the bus
We also talked about having the wrestling helmet that Charlie uses at school when he has a difficult moment available on the bus. Charlie would not actually wear it while on the bus but it would be there in a pre-emptive way.
We're also trying to find out how many other children are on the bus and plan follow the bus to see what the route is. Too, Charlie's teacher and the behaviorist said they'd try to make sure that Charlie is the last child on the bus, so he does not have too wait long.
All of this quite covered the sort of things Jim and I had been thinking of. By starting on the bus home next Tuesday, Charlie will have just about a week of ESY left before vacation starts; seems like a fair amount of time for him to get started with it.
The meeting attending with the school staff saying how they think Charlie 'delightful' (actual quote).
It was a very heartening meeting, needless to say, and I can (but of course) only confirm the delightfulness part. I do have to say, Jim and I are both feeling a bit wistful at the prospect of not driving Charlie home. Certainly it will be extremely helpful to have some extra time to get home to meet the bus, rather than having to leave work to drive out to his school (I'll be able to leave at around 3pm instead of 2pm, a huge difference in mom-minutes). But I really do love driving into the parking lot of Charlie's school and seeing all the buses lined up and the staff out, holding kids' hands, talking into a walkie-talkie sort of device to keep track of who's where, all the kids. It's not a chaotic scene though certainly very intense and full of activity. I always feel a sort of heart-into-the-mouth pang when I see everyone and when Charlie appears and I think, here we all are.
Jim feels the same. He picked up Charlie Tuesday and the two of them were already going out on a bike ride when I came home with some groceries, and that was only bike ride #1---Charlie called for another as the sun was starting to set and off he and Jim went, again.
And then what better way to fête our bike-riding and (hopefully soon to be) bus-riding boy than with a few rides at a local carnival, especially on the marvelous super-high frog-hopperish Drop Tower?