School Bus Transportation: Calming Autistic Students
published on May 24, 2019 by Sonia Mastros
The numbers are a bit fuzzy, but somewhere between 1-2% of students are diagnosed as having Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), a developmental disorder that creates social and communicative impairments. Autistic students can be difficult to deal with - particularly for those who aren't trained in working with them.In particular, it's vital that a school bus transportation manager takes time to train drivers on how to help autistic children ride the bus. Buses can be overwhelming for ASD students, particularly in their first days riding the bus. Keeping them calm is vital because an autistic student having a full "meltdown" can be such a distraction that safely driving the bus becomes impossible.
Here are a few things your school bus transportation training should focus on to help your drivers deal with these special students.
Four Tips for Training Your Bus Drivers to Properly Handle Autistic Students
1. Try to talk to them.
The stereotype of autistic students is that they don't talk or don't pay attention when you talk to them, but that's not necessarily the case. Many can be communicated with, as long as you're patient. In these situations, talking them down is always going to be the best solution.
Just don't expect eye contact. Autistic people, in general, avoid eye contact, and a lack of it does not necessarily mean they aren't paying attention.
2. Establish routines.
Autistic children are scared by the unfamiliar, and comforted by the familiar, even more than most students. Anything a driver can do to turn riding the bus into a routine will help keep an autistic child calm. Try to always seat them in the same place, even if you don't otherwise have assigned seats. It can even help to say the same thing to them every day as they get on the bus.
The more familiar the situation feels to them, the better.
3. Talk to the parents.
It's a good idea for drivers to periodically talk to parents anyway, but that's particularly true for autistic students. Their parents will understand their patterns of behavior, and be able to suggest things to do -or not do- to help keep them calm.
4. Be positive and reassuring.
Above all else, getting frustrated or angry with autistic students will only make things worse. Your drivers must interact with them in a positive and friendly way at all times, even if the child is unresponsive or starting to behave badly. A driver might not always be able to stop a "meltdown," but they could absolutely make it worse by being confrontational.
Does your district train drivers on handling ASD students? Let's share tips in the comments below!