Archive | School Bus RSS feed for this section

No More Teachers, No More Books!

25 Mar

George doesn’t want to go to school.

Big deal, I hear you say. He is, after all, an eight-year-old kid, and if I got a dollar for every eight-year-old kid who didn’t want to go to school, I’d be signing up to be the next space tourist.

His reluctance to go to school has escalated, though. It started mildly enough about five weeks ago. I was getting him ready for bed one evening when he said, “School is closed.”

“No,” I said. “School is open.”

He went to school without resistance the following day, but this became a nightly ritual. Each evening, the frequency of “School is closed” statements would increase, but as far as I could tell, there was no anxiety associated with it.

Then March break happened and everything changed. Over the course of the week-long break from school, both of the kids were sick. James recovered fairly quickly, but George had a bad cough that lingered, so I got him some natural-remedy cough syrup.

And what has cough syrup got to do with this story? Well, George hates taking cough syrup. In order to give it to him, I have to wrap him up in a blanket and give it to him with a syringe, a tiny bit at a time so he doesn’t spit the whole lot out at me. So when he reached for the cough syrup on Monday morning, indicating that he wanted that rather than school, we knew that this school aversion was serious business.

The following morning it got worse. George woke up very early and for over two hours, he constantly said, “School is closed. No school. School uh-uh.” All the time, his anxiety level was steadily rising. The pinnacle of all of this was George going into the bathroom and trying to force himself to throw up.

Despite all of this, when the school bus arrived, he got onto it without resistance, albeit looking absolutely miserable.

I sent an email to the school describing George’s behaviour and asking if anything was going on at school that I needed to know about. I didn’t think so: this is George’s third year with the same teacher, and she’s been absolutely fantastic for him. But there is, in all likelihood, something behind this and I needed to either rule out or confirm problems at the school.

Because she is so awesome, George’s teacher called me back within an hour of me sending the email. She reassured me that everything was fine, and that she would not have known that George was having a problem if I had not gotten in touch with the school.

Then she said something that was so obvious that I felt stupid for not having thought of it immediately. She said, “Did this start after you returned from your trip?”

Of course! I had been to South Africa for two weeks by myself, leaving husband and kids to hold the fort at home. The last time I had been to South Africa, when my dad died, George was 15 months old and James wasn’t even a gleam in my eye. My absence was a highly unusual state of being for both of the kids, and George, with his autism, must have had a very difficult time processing it.

And within a few days of my return, he started his nightly “School is closed” routine.  The idea that he is working through some separation anxiety makes perfect sense. The break in routine resulting from March break would have exacerbated the problem.

On the one hand, I am relieved to know that everything at school is fine. But on the other hand, I feel guilty about having been away, even though my presence in South Africa was so badly needed at that time.

I can only hope that with a bit more time and many more hugs, George will feel reassured. And if I ever have to go away unexpectedly again, I hope he will know that I am coming back.

Advertisements

The Wheels On The Bus Go… WHERE?

14 Apr

The start of the next school year in September is going to be a big time for our family, as both boys make the leap to full-time school. In August, George is being discharged from the therapy centre where he currently spends his mornings, and James will be graduating from half-day Kindergarten and going into First Grade. It is a big adjustment for both boys, and although I expect some fallout, particularly from George, I am not too concerned. I have faith in both of the boys’ schools.

It’s the school buses I’m worried about.

For James, this isn’t an issue. We live too close to his school for buses to be in the picture for him (much to his disappointment; James would love to ride in a school bus like his big brother).

George, on the other hand, needs the bus, and four years’ worth of problems in the school bus system have taught us a very unfortunate fact: when it comes to scheduling school bus runs, special needs children are treated as an afterthought. The children who do not have any disabilities – in other words, the ones who as a rule are more adaptable and resilient – have their scheduling sorted out very early on in the school year. And the children who do have disabilities – the ones who are vulnerable, have higher levels of anxiety and more reliance on routines – easily spend six weeks or more being picked up at different times, by different drivers, and spending inordinately long periods of time on the bus, while their parents try to figure out what is going on.

Like most parents of young children, I want to know where my kids are at all times. I want to be able to know that at this time, George is on the bus, or at that time, James is eating lunch at the daycare. I do not want to be wondering whether or not George is still at the therapy centre and why the school is calling me to ask why he hasn’t shown up yet.

Last year, right after the Thanksgiving weekend, there was an incident with George’s bus that, while turning out OK, could have had terrible consequences. At that point, we had struggled with the bus company for almost two months getting George’s schedule worked out, and we thought that it had finally been resolved. George was being picked up at a consistent time from the therapy centre by a driver he knew from the previous year, and he was spending half an hour at most on the bus before being dropped off at school for the afternoon.

On the first day back after the Thanksgiving weekend, George was picked up at the usual time by the usual bus driver. He was driven to school.

The only problem was this: it was the wrong school.

Thank goodness George had on a seatbelt lock, which prevented him from getting up, walking off the bus, and getting lost or worse. Thanks to the seatbelt lock, someone had to actually get onto the bus to remove the seatbelt.

The teacher who took George off the bus didn’t know what was going on. She took the driver’s word that George was supposed to be there. It was only when the driver had left and George was standing in the principal’s office with a confused babble of grown-ups surrounding him that someone realized that a mistake had been made.

For a regular kid this would have been bad enough. For a child with autism who is afraid of people and places he doesn’t know, and who has severe communication impairments, it was downright traumatic.

Somehow the principal figured out who George was, and through a series of phonecalls, was able to figure out where he was supposed to be. A child’s booster seat was dug up from somewhere, and the principal bundled George into his car and drove him to the right school.

It only then, when George had arrived at his own school, that someone thought of calling me and Gerard to tell us what had happened. Up until that point, we had been completely oblivious to all of this.

While we were unbelievably grateful to have our child home safe and sound at the end of that day, we were haunted by thoughts of “what if”. The thoughts of “what if this happens again” prompted us to spend the next few weeks trying to figure out what the hell had happened.

We never did receive satisfactory answers. We do know that the bus driver was not at fault, that she was given the wrong information from higher up. We also know that in said higher-up’s attempt to avoid responsibility, the bus driver was relieved of her duties. There were no attempts made to figure out what had gone wrong so that steps could be taken to prevent it from happening again.

And in a few short months, we are going to have to fight a new battle for a new school year.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/alextakesphotos/149198520)