How many times have you heard the expression, “Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes”? Too often, that expression is tossed about but quickly forgotten, particularly as it relates to parents of children with disabilities. We are quick to acknowledge the challenges they face, but are then unrelenting in our expectations of them.
I was talking to a mom of a child with autism a few months ago about the standard rule, “Have your child ready 10 minutes before the pick-up time.” We add that to our policy almost without thinking, considering it the height of reasonableness, but as she related to me, “My son can be dressed and undressed five times in 10 minutes.” If the bus arrives during the “undressed” moment, how does our driver respond? A call to base that Johnny is late again, or do they wait for Johnny to get dressed and greet him with a smile?
Parents of children with disabilities are often buried under an avalanche of acronyms, policies and expert recommendations that leave them humiliated, demoralized and suspicious. One study of the special-education process by Adrian T. Bennett found that the “parent-professional interactions are so structured as to render parents effectively powerless as partners in their children’s educational careers.”
As transporters, we cannot change the whole system. We may know about LRE and FAPE; we may even be up on IEPs, FBAs and BIPs, but when they start talking about the WPPSI and WIAT, most of us end up as confused as the parents.
Maybe stepping back and changing our corner of the system could actually even help us do our job better. In fact, that same study found that “parents can be very perceptive about their children’s difficulties and, therefore, have a great deal to contribute to an effective parent-professional partnership.”
Answer their questions
How do we make parents productive transportation partners? First, we give them all the information, we answer all the questions and we communicate responsibly and responsively.
Kathy Furneaux, executive director of the Pupil Transportation Safety Institute, observes, “It’s hard for some parents to trust others with the responsibility of transporting their child. Meeting parents first and creating a relationship will alleviate some of those anxieties. Ultimately, a good relationship with the parent or guardian will serve to enhance the safety of the child.”
For children with severe physical or intellectual impairments, the communication can start most effectively with a home visit and a dry run. Once transportation has been identified in the IEP, it is our job to arrange both the vehicle and equipment necessary as well as identifying appropriate staff and any special training they might need.
The home visit can include information gathering, such as the three-page checklist Dr. Ray Turner includes in “Special-Needs Transportation Best Practice.”