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No special bus for me; Andy advocates for himself.

No Special Bus For Me

Our eight-year-old son, Andy, who has Down syndrome, is in an integrated second-grade class this year. It has been that way since his second year of kindergarten when our school's parents, staff and district administrators started a pilot program. All children in the school, no matter what their disability, had the opportunity to attend class with their age-mates.

As my husband, Carter, and I had hoped, Andy has made good academic progress because he has normal peer models to imitate. What we did not foresee was that being integrated would inspire him to advocate forcefully for what he needed to grow. From the moment he entered his first regular education classroom, Andy has insisted he be treated exactly like the other children. He has kept working -- even when doing first grade worksheets meant a real struggle for him.

BUS INTEGRATION

The most dramatic instance of Andy's determination to succeed came during the spring of his first-grade year when he decided he no longer wanted to ride the special education bus. When Andy was in a self-contained classroom, the children boarded this bus as a class, so Andy thought nothing of it. But when he entered first grade, Andy recognized that other children were riding a larger school bus destined for the same school he was attending. He kept pointing to the school bus as it rumbled past our house each morning and saying, "I want to ride that bus." My response was always the same: "Maybe next year, Andy."

One morning Andy simply disappeared. Suspicious, i checked the school bus stop; sure enough, he was boarding with the other students. I ran breathlessly up to the bus door. The driver told me that she would be glad to give Andy the chance to try riding with the other children; all we needed was special permission from the principal.

I packed an indignant Andy into the car, headed for school and intercepted our principal in the hallway. His response to my harried inquiry was, "That sounds like a good thing to try. I'll need to clear it with the people in transportation, and it's a busy day for me. How soon would Andy like to start?"

i gulped. "Well, today," I replied.

To my relief, he smiled saying, "I'll see what I can do." By the time I arrived at work, there was a message waiting for me saying that all was arranged.

"How exciting," I thought. "My child has advocated for himself, and I didn't even have to write it into the IEP."

I was three feet off the ground the next morning as Andy boarded the bus with his brother and his neighborhood friends. "Wow, that was easy," I chirped to myself. "Why didn't I think of this before?"

It's always a bad idea to become complacent, especially right away. By the time I got to work that day there was a message to call the school secretary. "Bad news," she said sadly. "The driver reported that Andy refused to get off the bus once they got to school. He also said a not repeatable word when she insisted. Since she has to pick up children for another school right after she drops off our children, she can't wait for Andy to change his mind."

"OK," I sighed, my complacency evaporating like a mirage. "I'll meet the bus at school tomorrow and see if i can encourage him to follow the other children."

We tried for another week to convince Andy that he needed to get off the bus, put his backpack in his locker and go to the playground with the others. (He was already familiar with steps two and three.) Unfortunately, he chose instead to swear and throw things. We had explained to him many times that his riding the bus was contingent upon his sitting still and getting off, but he didn't seem to believe us. Disheartened, I agreed that Andy would have to go back to riding the special education bus. For two weeks, I literally locked him in the house until the regular school bus, which came first, had left lest he attempt to board it.

Then Andy found another way. We live half a block from a city bus stop. One day he vanished while playing outside. On a hunch, I called the bus company. Sure enough, they discovered via radio that Andy was on a city bus about seven miles from our home. A supervisor took him off the bus and brought him home. Andy showed no remorse, only pride that he was able to give his address to the supervisor and get home.

On another occasion, he boarded the bus and went four miles downtown. He soon realized that he needed to take another bus to get home; unfortunately the one he chose didn't go near our home. This time, the police returned him to me.

Clearly something had to change. My husband and I felt as if we had two choices. We could either lock him in the house day and night so he couldn't catch any buses, or we could keep trying to teach him to ride the regular education bus to school. Andy clearly wanted to learn to ride like the other kids. He needed time and patience, not discipline. Despite his frustrating behavior, he was telling us to understand his need for guidance and opportunity. What we needed was a little guidance to enable him to make a smooth transition.

BUS CARDS

The Madison school district has several people employed as Program Support Teachers (PST's) to act as liaisons between the school administration, the building staff and parents. Andy's integration teacher (other places call them "special education teachers") suggested that we contact our PST for suggestions.

"Fran, we need your creative input," I began. She soon outlined a plan which would later prove to be successful. First, we decided to integrate Andy onto the afternoon bus when the task was simply to get off the bus and walk the half block to our door where I would be waiting. My job was to design "bus cards" that would contain the day of the week and the label "bus" at the top. Below that I wrote three options: "I sat quietly," "I got up once," and "I was noisy and ran around."

Andy's classroom aide would give the driver a daily "bus card" when Andy boarded to go home. At Andy's stop, the driver would check the appropriate box, depending on how Andy had cooperated that day. Then I would meet him about 30 feet from the bus (so he could practice getting off without my prompting), look at the card and respond appropriately. "I sat quietly" resulted in a big hug and a special treat like Teddy Grahams. "I got up once" earned a sticker. "I ran around and was noisy" would result in a warning not to continue or his riding would be in jeopardy.

For the rest of the school year, Andy successfully rode the homebound bus. Showing the card to me gave him a reason to disembark at the proper time. By the end of the year, I would wait at our front door and Andy would come directly home. He only received the "I was noisy" check once. All the rest were "I sat quietly's." After three days, the treat didn't matter to him; all he wanted was a big hug and the assurance that he could continue riding the afternoon bus.

Because there was no alternative, he rode the special education bus for summer school, but we allowed him to wait at the bus stop by himself (we could see him from the window). Since he had acquired the self-discipline to stay at the stop and board in an orderly fashion, we decided to try having him ride the regular education bus both ways in the fall. We also took him on the city bus during the summer to reinforce the idea of sitting quietly in his seat.

FINAL LESSONS

I met the bus at school the first day but waited inside the building to see how Andy would manage this new task on his own. The bus pulled up, and I could see the children disembarking. Finally, Andy, visible in his yellow rain coat, stood in the doorway. My heart sank as I observed him talking to the driver rather than getting off. But no, it turned out he was just getting his bus card checked. In my anxiety, I had forgotten about the card.

You could see the pride in his face as he descended the steps with his neighborhood playmates and the card marked "I sat quietly" in hand. I said "Great job, Andy!" as he swept past his classroom aide and me with a grin, heading for his locker.

For the entire first week of school, Andy rode the school bus without incident. Then the driver wrote on his card for three afternoons in a row that he had hit another child. I substituted, "I hit someone" for "I was noisy" on his bus card and had Andy read that alternative to me; following that we discussed why we wouldn't want that box checked. His growing realization of his responsibilities put a stop to his aggression.

Eventually, we hope to phase out the bus cards. However, for now they are an excellent way to keep current on Andy's bus behavior and work out any problems immediately. Meanwhile, Andy is learning the important lessons that privileges are earned, and he is capable of learning to behave like other children. He would not have learned these valuable lessons if he had not seen other neighborhood children riding the school bus and had not insisted that we teach him to do it too.

A person cannot want the best possibilities for himself until he or she sees what those possibilities are. Integration allows people with differing abilities to not only see what could be, but can inspire them to insist that it must be.

Carole Briggs Ayres is a copy editor and technical typist for the Food Research Institute in Madison, Wisconsin. She is also a freelance writer. Her article, Integration: A Parent's Perspective, appeared in our September 1988 issue. Her book, At the Controls: Women in Aviation, will be published by Learner Publications this year. Carole lives in Madison with her husband, Carter, and two children, Andy, nine, and Christopher, seven and a half.
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Title Annotation:story of a eight-year-old with Down Syndrome
Author:Ayres, Carole Briggs
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Date:Sep 1, 1990
Words:1749
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