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February 07, 2011  |   Comments (4)   |   Post a comment

Understanding Children With Autism

An expert on the disorder explains the reasons behind students’ disruptive or inappropriate behavior and offers tips for how pupil transporters can respond to improve the quality of students’ lives in and outside the school bus.

by Jocelyn Taylor, MS CCC SLP


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Author Jocelyn Taylor says that while adults may think a student with autism is being rude, he or she is actually in a state of confusion regarding what to do and how to react.

Academic skills versus social skills
In the case of Asperger’s syndrome or high-functioning autism, pupil transporters should understand that a student may have high academic skills, may be earning high scores, reading college-level text books in an area of interest to him or accomplishing amazing memorization feats, but that same student may not realize that telling a bus driver how to drive is not acceptable, or that standing too close to someone can make him or her uncomfortable. That student also may not realize that just because a girl says “hi,” she is not his girlfriend and may not want to share a seat with him on the bus.

Teach according to children’s social failures
When these kids exhibit some type of social failure or a disruptive behavior, we need to ask ourselves, “What is it about this social situation that this kid does not understand?”

When he fails, we need to teach him what he isn’t understanding. He may
need to be taught the difference between “my space” and “your space,”
he may need to learn that other people get a turn to talk, and that you can stand closer to someone when you are standing in a bus line than when you are talking face to face.

In addition, he may need to learn that an accidental bump in the bus line is not teasing, but that repeated and unfriendly taunts are teasing and should be reported. He may need to learn that the bus rules on the way to school are the same as the rules on the way home from school, but that they are not the same during an emergency.

Far-reaching benefits
As previously mentioned, we need to teach these students how to accept another person’s point of view. This will enable them to make better sense of a complicated and unpredictable social world. Without this skill, the students will have difficulty monitoring their own behavior and responding to stress in acceptable ways.

For example, the students may have difficulty responding to an English literature assignment that requires them to discuss what the author was thinking, or completing a math assignment that includes a lot of handwriting, or a writing assignment that requires them to write about an area they are not interested in. The students may also have trouble coping with a physical education class where there is a high level of action and noise, and quick and unpredictable movements, or a bus ride that is taking a little longer than normal because of road construction.

As was alluded to earlier, students with autism are not trying to annoy you and they are not trying to be rude. They are not trying to make your life miserable, but they may enjoy your reaction to their screaming. Or they may be screaming to try to cope with their anxiety, or in an attempt to communicate with you.

The bottom line is, there is a disorder involved here — a high anxiety disorder with concomitant complications: executive function (they may need a “recipe” for how to ride the bus), handwriting (they may need some assistive technology), inflexibility (there is an intense need for routine and sameness), anxiety (they know they are different but don’t
know how to fix it), and social confusion (they can’t figure out what the other kids are laughing at).

If we as adults can understand the difference between “won’t do” and “can’t do,” we can add value, understanding, acceptance and validity to a student who is worried, anxious, confused, probably teased and in need of our effective intervention.

Jocelyn Taylor is an autism specialist at the Utah State Office of Education in Salt Lake City.

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Read more about: behavior management

The key word in your article is teach. I have been a bus attendant, bus driver and currently am a trainer for drivers and attendants. I am also the mother of two sons with autism. The issue I find in transportation is that often people push their responsibility off on others. Some parents don't teach their kids at home and expect miracles from them on the bus and school. Some schools let the kids run wild, give them candy, treats and throw them on the bus and expect them to be calm. We are suppose to be a team but often times it really does not feel like it. I pride myself in working with my sons schools and bus staff and just wish I could get the same.

Cynthia    |    Jun 01, 2011 11:39 AM

I have been transporting special needs students for 31 years and have my own company.Please add my address to your mailings

claire    |    Mar 08, 2011 06:44 PM

Just drive the bus is not acceptable in my community’s efforts. Our bus drivers are considered specialized educators and with top-notch support from management has made it possible to provide more successful rides for all children riding our mainstream buses, including children with special needs.

jkraemer    |    Feb 13, 2011 07:32 AM

The first sentence brings up an immediate red flag concerning this article: "No cargo is as precious or as vulnerable as children with special needs." Special interest statements of this nature are simply false. None are cargo, precious or otherwise, and all children riding the buses in our community are precious. Bias toward a certain characteristic does not mean a tips story is useless, it simply means filtering and reading with caution for the good stuff and this article provides plenty of good advice. A loud, unruly environment impacts virtually all the students and the bus driver. Keeping the bus environment a safe, calm place for children and a safe workplace for the bus driver is critical to the safe transportation of all children in my opinion. I’ve noticed over the years that children with Autism can do very well on the bus when a calm environment is maintained. But that statement is also true of most reg-ed children. It is just as important that bus drivers are informed and educated how to work with all the students, including special needs on the mainstream buses, and doing so with expectation levels that meet mainstream transportation. How many expect their bus drivers actually provided this level of information on children or even include their drivers participation in I.E.P. meetings. How many drivers want to be included? It is industry articles like this one that can provide some of what is lacking from facility training and bus driver support but can not replace mainstream behavior management training. The Internet provides a huge storehouse of information for self-study for the interested. Internet studies in combination with articles like this one can make up for the chronic lacking at some facilities but not in some bus drivers. Just drive the bus is not acceptable in my community’s efforts. Our bus drivers are considered specialized educators and with top-notch support from management has made it possible to provide more succe

jkraemer    |    Feb 13, 2011 07:29 AM

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