The end of school year field trip is coming up. That means the topic of the school bus comes up too. For children with special needs, the school bus can be complicated. At least in our school district, there are a host of problems. Late or missing school buses. Ill equipped buses. Not to mention the potential for problems when it comes to sending your child who is at risk for seizures, off on the bus. My son who has cortical visual impairment (CVI) no longer rides the bus to school. So when field trips come up, we talk about the bus. Nowadays, the only thing he likes about the school bus is preferred color yellow (CVI ten characteristics, Roman).
When he was in preschool, Jasper loved riding the bus for the three miles between home and school. He rode it four days a week. He loved the ritual of the bus so much that on days when we had to drive, he would cry and protest. Our children with CVI love and rely on their routines and they do not appreciate it when those routines are disrupted.
In elementary school, he no longer takes the bus. As a student who receives special education services, he is still eligible for door to door bus service. But school is within walking distance so a bus does not make sense.
The prospect of the bus is unwelcome and Jasper lets me know this right away once he learns about the pending field trip, “No bus!!” What happened to sour his feelings about the bus? What changed? What is different? Let’s think about the bus then, and the bus now.
Back then, in preschool, Jasper rode the bus regularly. And when we talk about the bus, we are talking about the short bus for children in special education. The short bus had snug seat belts and tinted windows (light, photo sensitivity). Jasper rode the bus four days each week, it was familiar (novelty). On the busiest days, there were no more than three other students on the bus with him (complexity of array). Very few kids, meant very little noise (sensory complexity).
Riding the bus now, in elementary school, is different. Jasper rarely rides the bus, so the bus is a new activity (novelty). And going on a class field trip to an unfamiliar place yields even more novelty, along with a dose of anxiety about visiting this unknown place. A class field trip means that the bus is filled to capacity with first graders (complexity of array). Students, teachers and chaperones squeeze in, three to a seat. Being away from school, headed out on a daylong adventure, means the first graders are especially noisy and restless. There is nonstop talking, laughing, jostling, shrieking (movement, sensory complexity galore). As Jasper puts it, the bus simply has “too many people!”
For our kids with CVI, and even for a student in Phase III CVI, the bus can be a challenging environment – right smack in the midst of a challenging school day.
We talk about the field trip to the park, pointing out the park location weeks in advance on our way to a therapy appointment. There’s the park, that’s where we’ll go for our field trip! It’s a big park, with hiking trails, just like our favorite park.
And we talk about the bus. Jasper will be with kids from his class, there will be lots of kids, the bus will be full. We can pick a special friend to sit with. We know the bus will be loud and noisy. We can choose a seat near the front of the bus, with fewer kids ahead of us (complexity of array, movement). And we can sit on the right side of the bus, so that half of the bus, and half of the kids, are tucked behind Jasper’s left visual field, where his deficits are. Headphones would help dull the noise, if only Jasper would tolerate the feel of them on his head.
A part of me wants to push through, armed with our CVI strategies, around the CVI ten characteristics (Roman), and take on that school bus. Because end of school year. Because friends. Because inclusion. Because fitting in. But at the end of a long year, the bus feels like an unnecessary exercise. We just might have to make our way to the arboretum on our own.