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Expert Advice – My autistic child is anxious on the school bus!

My child is so anxious going to school. She hates riding in the school bus with the other children. She otherwise enjoys school and once she is there and recovers from the stress of the journey she is fine. How can I make her less anxious about the transport?

In order to determine why the child is becoming anxious, we must first figure out what is the specific trigger or triggers. My suggestion is that you take the child to school yourself either by car or by the bus, if possible, to see what is causing anxiety. Is it the interactions that she will have with peers, is in the anxiety of not knowing the route to the school, etc.. If this is not possible, here are some benign interventions that you can try.

It’s all talk, talk, talk!

For a child that is vocal, I would recommend priming the child as to the events that are going to occur on the school bus. Talk about the events on the bus, begin by stating the goal of taking a bus and the possible fun activities that she may have on the bus. Talk to her about getting on the bus, sitting with some friends on the bus, talking with peers on the bus, talk to her about who can help them while on the bus (the bus aid), talk to her about what time she should get to school, talk to her about the problems she has experienced on the bus and what she can do to resolve them (i.e. call you on the cell phone, moving seats etc).

If the child has a therapist, I would suggest working on some relaxation techniques or decision-making techniques.

But my child is non-vocal?

For a child that is non-vocal, I would create a picture schedule of the events that correspond on the bus.

This is done by getting a flip photo album and putting the events in a format that the represents the main events occurring on the bus ride. You could have a picture of gathering your school materials prior to walking to the bus stop, a picture of the child getting on the bus, a picture of an empty seat on the bus, a picture of the child sitting on the bus seat, couple of pictures on the route going to school, a picture of the child getting off the bus, a picture of the child going to her classroom and finally a picture of the child greeting her teacher and doing what she has to do in the classroom. This a simple picture schedule, speak to your teacher as there is a good chance that they are familiar with this concept.

If you could recruit the bus aid for assistance to help prompt the child with the picture schedule that would be great. If they allow you on the bus, you yourself can prompt the child. If not transport the child yourself via car or public bus transportation (closest thing you have to the real thing).

Scenario while on public transport:

  1. Begin by showing the child the picture of the first required action (getting a jacket and his/her schoolbooks) and telling the child what he/she needs to do.
  2. Repeat this action for every single picture. If the child can mimic you ( maybe says the word book jacket or a close approximation) or knows sign language, have him say or sign the word.
  3. Have him/her point to the items that he/she needs to get or an item that is necessary for him/her to complete the action. Once he/she completes the action, praise him/her for doing so and present the next action through the picture schedule.
  4. If he/she is non-vocal, once you show him/her the picture, have him point to the books and/or jacket. Guide his finger if you have trouble pointing to the items.
  5. If your child likes verbal praise, praise him/her for doing the action (getting the books and the jacket). ” Good job at getting your books and jacket, what is the next thing we need to do “
  6. Present the picture to the next action.

The use of the above is known as “interventions” and will hopefully go a long way towards allowing your daughter to relax and start to enjoy her journey to school every day. Keeping a brief daily diary may allow you to keep track, plan and also vent. We wish you the best of luck, and please let us know if this blog post has helped you and your family.

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