Most 16 year olds are either driving a car or taking public transportation. But for a teen with Autism, that’s not usually the case. Our teenager clearly wanted the independence of not having mom or dad dropping him off at school. Over the course of 2 years, we were able to get him riding public transportation on his own.
Breaking it down.
First, we had to recognize that we needed to find something equivalent to driving a car or taking the bus on his own while we worked through our longer term plan. I could easily drop him off at school on my way to work, but he didn’t want that. In the Seattle area, we had the option of using the Access Bus Service. This was a hassle for me in terms of scheduling and coordinating rides but it gave my son his first step toward independent transportation.
During the period of time where he was riding Access to school, we focused his ABA program on several things focused on riding the bus:
- Personal Safety – not talking to strangers, where to sit on the bus (near the front), keeping a low profile by wearing headphones and not staring at others, avoiding “self talk” (talking out loud to yourself in public) and how to ask a bus driver for help.
- Bus and Navigation Skills – Using a trip planner to plan out a route from one place to another, understanding how to identify which bus to ride, navigating from one bus stop to another if your route has a transfer, and if you are lost, how to call for help and describe where you are.
When our son mastered his Personal Safety and Bus/Navigation programs, we knew he was ready. In the Seattle area, they have a wonderful program called Transit Instruction. We signed up our son and he was paired with an instructor who rode transit with him every day, to and from school, until he had mastered the route and demonstrated appropriate behavior on the bus.
The first time our son rode the bus solo, he met his bus instructor but then he got on the bus on his own with a plan to meet the instructor on the other end of the route. Unknown to our son, there was a secret rider who was working with the instructor so our son could be observed when he thought he was riding alone. All went smoothly and our son was ready to truly ride solo.
It was difficult for me the first few times I left my son at the bus stop. Our son appears to be VERY proud of his ability to independently get to and from school. And this simply contributes to his confidence across all other areas of his life.
If you are a parent wondering if your older child on the spectrum is ready for this, I encourage you to push yourself. I’ll share in a future post “what happens if something goes wrong”. We’ve lived through our son getting on the wrong bus and getting lost in downtown Seattle. He survived. We survived. And our confidence in his ability is even greater now as a result.