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January 03, 2014  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

5 tips for connecting with special-needs students

Using visuals and short, simple statements are key changes drivers and aides can make in their communication style to better connect with students who have hearing, vision and cognitive impairments, and physical endurance issues. Meanwhile, transportation directors should build a solid communication plan between drivers and aides, teachers, nurses and parents to ensure everyone involved has the information needed to serve the students.

by Nicole Schlosser - Also by this author


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4. Speak simply. Keep it short. Drivers must be careful with the words they use. Don’t talk too much. Use simple statements. Give multi-step directions one step at a time, and if possible, a picture of what each step looks like.

Students who have autism often are very literal in their understanding of language and don’t understand idioms, Shutrump says. For example, don’t say to a student who seems agitated, “You look like you have a bee in your bonnet.” Instead, ask, “Are you upset?” Many students with autism and auditory sensitivities also don’t pick up on vocal nuances, such as changing tone of voice, she adds.

Additionally, drivers should speak at a moderate volume when communicating with students who are hearing impaired, Shutrump says, because simply talking louder doesn’t clarify what you’re saying. Supplement instructions with pictures and gestures and use short, simple sentences.


When securing a wheelchair, respect the child’s space. If the child can help fasten securement systems, he or she should be allowed to do so.
<p>When securing a wheelchair, respect the child’s space. If the child can help fasten securement systems, he or she should be allowed to do so.</p>
5. Respect the student’s space when securing a wheelchair or restraint. If the child can help, he or she should be allowed to do so. Often bus drivers and attendants get too “close and personal” because there’s not much space in a wheelchair station, Wolf says.

Benedict Jr. adds that drivers and aides should remember that there is a person in that wheelchair and not hurry through securing it.

Building a communication plan with teachers, nurses and parents
Meanwhile, transportation directors should encourage communication through every channel — parents, teachers, bus drivers and attendants, and the nurse’s office.

Meslin, who has given presentations for the past 20 years on building these partnerships, says that bringing everyone involved in the students’ well-being together is beneficial because a child who has a problem on the bus brings that to the classroom and vice versa. This allows each party to be better prepared in their setting and make sure the student is safe.

As part of its bus support plan, Newport-Mesa USD designed three-part forms that allow the driver and aide, teachers, school nurse and parents to track the child’s condition and behavior. The forms address the a.m. and p.m. bus rides, the home and the classroom. “It takes all of us to serve that student properly,” Meslin says.   

Additionally, Benedict Jr. says that teachers and parents use notebooks and planners to tracks whats going on with special-needs students, which helps keep the transportation staff apprised of any problems to watch for. 

“In districts where that partnership doesn’t exist, counterparts don’t share timely information about a student’s condition. Instead of communicating to help a team mate, it’s frequently thought of as, ‘My job is done. I’m going home. Now, it’s their job,’” Meslin adds. “That’s unfortunate, because we can all serve students more effectively if we are kept current.”

Benedict Jr. agrees. “Good communication between all parties [means] it isn’t going to be an uphill battle to provide excellent transportation service,” he says.

To ensure trust among all parties, drivers and attendants must be reminded every year that medical and behavioral information they receive must be kept confidential, Wolf adds.   

Information on helping special-needs students should be presented the same way to drivers, attendants and teachers, Shutrump advises.

Newport-Mesa USD has its behavior specialist, who trains teachers on issues such as de-escalation techniques, train the drivers on them as well.   

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