Tag Archives: public transportation

The School Bus

We received a call yesterday from Emma’s school saying the bus driver had yelled at Emma in front of the other children when she was getting off the bus. The driver claimed Emma had spit in her face. Richard and I were incredulous as neither of us have ever seen Emma spit nor did I think Emma was physically capable of projecting a pool of saliva from her mouth at a target, human or otherwise.
When we asked Emma what happened on the bus, she replied, “Emma so sad. You make Emma cry. Emma want to get off the bus.”
“Why did you want to get off the bus, Em?”
“Lady. You have to ask the lady. Lady, can I get off the bus?” Emma said while wrapping a strand of hair around and around her finger.
“What did the lady say?”
“NO! Emma sad.”
“But Em, what happened?”
“Emma go to gymnastics?” She looked at me and nodded her head.
“Yes, Sweetie. You’re going to gymnastics this afternoon,” I said.
By the time the bus arrived, Richard and I were no clearer on the actual events than before. As with many autistic children, their (in)ability to speak is much more than a language delay. The language they have is often garbled, confused and the thinking difficult, if impossible to follow. Emma’s reference to gymnastics in answer to my request for clarification as to the events on the bus suggested she feared she wouldn’t be able to go to gymnastics as a result. She had done something wrong, someone was angry, her beloved gymnastics would be taken away. Even after I reassured her she would be attending gymnastics, she continued to ask several more times.
Last night Emma woke me at 1:47AM screaming, “Mommy! Mommy! Mommy come!”
When I went into her room I told her if she continued to scream we would not let her go to gymnastics, something she’s been looking forward to for several days. It does make sense how she might conclude gymnastics was up for grabs, given the upset on the bus.
When the bus arrived we asked what happened.
The driver leaned forward and said, “She spit in my face. I told her that wasn’t okay.”
“She spit in your face?” I repeated.
“Yeah. In my face. She sits there spitting on the floor and then blames another kid, but it’s not him that’s doing it, it’s her. She’s the one who’s spitting,” the driver said.
“It’s hard for us to believe this, as we’ve never seen her spit at anyone,” Richard replied.
“Yeah, well I think she picked it up from the other kid, cause he use to spit, but now she does more than him and blames him.”
“Okay. Then what happened?”
“I told her – it’s not okay. You can’t do that,” the driver said. “She went like this,” the driver took her hand put it to her mouth and flicked out with her fingers. “She spit at me and I told her you can’t do that.”
“Okay, do you mind if I get on the bus to talk to her?” I asked.
The bus driver nodded her head.
“Em, you can’t spit. Do you know what that means?” I asked.
Emma stared at me and said, “You have to ask Mommy.”
“No Em. You just can’t spit. You have to keep your fingers out of your mouth. You have to keep your gum in your mouth. Okay?”
“Okay,” Emma answered.
“She doesn’t listen,” the bus matron said.
“It’s not that she doesn’t listen, it’s that she doesn’t understand what’s being said to her,” I began.
“Yeah, but she doesn’t listen,” the matron said, shaking her head and staring at Emma who was now seated directly behind the driver with her seat belt buckled.
“She doesn’t understand what’s being said to her, it’s different than not listening,” I said.
“No I know. I understand these kid’s situation. I’ve been driving kids like this for a long time,” the driver said. The matron stood by shaking her head. As all of this was going on one of the children kept getting up from her seat and standing in the aisle.
“Logan! Sit back down!” the driver said, loudly.
“Logan! Sit down!” Emma parroted.
“She doesn’t understand why you’re angry with her. She doesn’t understand what it means to spit at someone,” I said. “Yelling at her won’t make her understand any better.”
“Oh no. I don’t yell. I never yelled at her,” the driver said. “I just told her like this,” she then spoke in a kind voice, “You can’t do that, it’s not okay.”
Richard and I looked at one another. “Okay, well please tell us if anything like this happens again.”
“She’ll have a new driver after the holiday,” the driver informed us. “But I know her, she’s a friend of mine, I’ll tell her what’s going on.”
By the time the bus left with Emma inside it, Richard and I stood together and watched it go. I felt a familiar constriction in my chest. How can we know what really happened? Our daughter is incapable of telling us her version of what occurred, the school wasn’t on the bus until after the “incident” happened, though they did witness the driver shouting at Emma. The accounts from the driver and the bus matron, who appear to have little if any knowledge of autism and certainly no training in autism, are all we have.

Emma’s School Bus

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.