Emma came home this evening and said, “Sad.” This was in answer to my question, “How are you?”
“Why Emma? What happened?” I asked.
“Emma have to go on the school bus. Emma make you sad,” she said, frowning and nodding her head.
“What do you mean?” I asked kneeling down so my eyes were on the same level as hers.
“You have to wait! You have to sit! Emma cry. Emma bite yourself,” Emma looked directly at me as she said this.
“Why do you have to wait, Emma?” I asked.
“Want to go to Becky’s class.”
“Did your bus come to school early?” I asked trying to piece together what Emma was trying to tell me.
“You have to wait. Want to go to Becky’s class.”
“Did someone tell you, you had to wait?” I asked.
Emma nodded her head. Shouting and pointing her finger she said, “I told you! SIT DOWN!”
At this point I was more than a little alarmed. “Emma, who said that to you?”
Emma didn’t answer at first, then nodded her head. “Yeah,” she said in a sad voice.
These kinds of responses from Emma only highlight how difficult it can be to communicate with her and understand her.
“Did the bus driver say that to you or the bus matron?” I asked, knowing these were the only two people on the school bus.
“Bus driver said – I told you NO! Sit down!” Emma said in a loud stern voice. Then in a quieter voice she said, “Emma cry. Emma so upset.”
I think it was at this point in the conversation when I went to the computer and wrote an email to our lawyer, ccing Richard and Emma’s head teacher, the head master and social worker. I have no idea what kind of recourse is available to us and so we need advice. What I do know is that we have had to deal with the Office of Public Transportation since Emma began going to school five years ago. Emma’s bus arrives between 7:20AM and 7:40AM to take her some fourteen blocks to her school, which begins at 8:30AM. When I called to complain about the early pick up time, insisting that it cannot possibly take an hour to drive fourteen blocks even if three of them are cross town blocks, I was told the bus picks up many other children who go to several nearby special education schools before Emma is eventually dropped off at her school. In other words, Emma is driven around the city for close to an hour. For years now I have questioned the logic in this and have been: hung up on, yelled at or told this is the way the route is mapped out and there’s nothing that can be done.
A few years ago I was determined to have the bus change their pick up time from 7:15AM to something later. For two months I went back and forth with various people at the Office of Public Transportation, sometimes calling three and four times in a single day. By the time they finally agreed to change Emma’s pick up time the semester was coming to an end and we started anew with a new bus company and driver after the break. Which is another bizarre thing. Are special needs children the only ones who have a new bus company, new bus driver, new bus route every three to four months? How is it that neuro-typical children in New York City have the same bus for the entire school year, often for several years in a row?
In the past few weeks I have noticed when the bus pulls up that there seem to be only one or two other children on the bus as was the case Thursday morning, no other children. Emma was the only child. So unless the bus is picking up children after Emma, it is driving fourteen blocks (which should take about ten minutes depending on traffic. If the bus arrives early, (picks Emma up at 7:25AM drives ten minutes to her school, getting there by 7:35AM) it sits idling outside the school until the school’s doors open at 8:25AM. Which means (if I am correct) Emma is waiting in the bus alone for almost an hour.
What makes all of this particularly horrifying to me is we put Emma on the school bus and cross our fingers she will be treated well and with respect, she will arrive safely at her school in a timely manner, but we cannot know what really goes on because Emma cannot tell us. We have to trust. And at this moment I no longer trust.