Recently, a young girl with autism was struck twice in the face by a school bus aide. The person has not yet been charged, and the incident is still under investigation. Sadly, stories of abuse of our most vulnerable children are not uncommon.
After an incident several years ago with my own daughter, I requested that cameras be installed on all special ed buses in our school district and am very grateful that our town complied. While many communities across the country already have cameras in use, it’s important for you to know that this is not federally mandated and varies widely by school district, and that cameras alone many not curb abuse.
As parents, we are placing the safety of our precious children into the hands of bus and school staff on a daily basis. We should be able to do so without fear, but the reality is we must be vigilant advocates for our children at all times.
So what can we do to help ensure the safety of our kids?
- Ask your child’s school to provide autism training to all bus drivers, monitors and aides.
- If there are no cameras installed, talk to your school district: Abuse can still happen, but with cameras, it can be proven and addressed. Ask if there is a camera installed on your child’s bus, ask how long the recordings are archived and how you can request to review video if you have reason to suspect a problem. Confirm that personnel background checks are done and ask if bus drivers and monitors receive specialized training prior to working with children with disabilities.
- Introduce yourself to your child’s bus staff, relay any concerns they should be aware of regarding your child’s individual needs. For example, “Please use an eyes on, hands off approach,” or “My child needs to be supervised, but does not like to be touched.”
- Observe your child: Watch for changes in behavior or anxiety when getting on or off the bus. Remember that this could be due to issues at school as well, so be sure to have discussions with both school and bus staff about your concerns.
- Follow your gut – and the bus! If you feel that something just isn’t right, drive the bus route at random times and monitor activity.
- Ask the school to assign a buddy or peer pal on the bus.
- Use photos of the bus driver and monitor as part of a social story for your child about going to school. This will also allow your child to communicate with you using those same pictures.
- If you notice any signs of abuse, take pictures, document everything, and report it to your local police department.
- Work with school staff/speech pathologists to help your non-verbal child develop an effective means of communication. Request an Assistive Technology Assessment if you feel your child would benefit from a communication/voice output device.
- Provide a Student Profile Form to your school and bus staff with information specific to your child’s individual needs.
While most people who choose to work with children with special needs are very caring and compassionate individuals, there are those who take advantage of the fact that our non-verbal children are the ultimate victims of abuse because they are unable to report crimes against them. It is crucial for us as parents to put every possible safeguard into place.