Learning to ride a public bus independently is a skill that many children with Fragile X syndrome (FXS) will be able to learn. Many of them have ridden a school bus and some of the skills are transferrable.
If your child has ridden a school bus, here are the aspects they may have encountered:
- The stop was near your house.
- The bus was usually on time except in poor weather, and in those cases, the school district would often call to let you know.
- Your child got to know the bus driver and many of the other students on the bus.
- Sometimes, someone from the school district may have ridden with your child.
If your child did not take a school bus to school you may want to consider the following (even if your child did take a school bus, you may also want to do this):
- Follow public buses around town to see where they go.
- Take your child to the central bus station so they will be able to see the public buses come and go.
- Go for a bus ride to some destination in your town. You could use those opportunities to discuss the differences between the school and public buses.
Note: Create as many visuals as your child needs to help make this process successful.
Public Buses – Aspects to Consider
- The bus driver may not be the same every day—even if the bus is taken at the same time.
- The bus driver may not be particularly friendly. Many drivers will be friendly, but you cannot count on that.
- The bus could run late. No one will call you to tell you this. It is important to be prepared for this, especially in bad weather.
- You have to pay to ride the bus each time you ride, though you may decide to use a bus pass. See the planning section below for ideas on this.
- The bus waits for no one. Just know that, in most cases, if you miss a bus, another one will come along—you just may have to wait a while.
- There are rules on public buses:
- No food.
- No drinks.
- No loud music.
NOTE: You may want to impose additional rules. If you think talking on a cell phone (non-emergency) or listening to music would cause your child to not pay attention, you may want to wait to use them when they have more experience.
Of course, you want to tell your child that the cell phone can always be used in case of an emergency.
- The public bus will be much quieter. Many of the people on the bus will be going to work, so it is a much more serious environment.
- There will be “strangers” on the bus. Most likely, everyone else on the bus will be a stranger to your child, at least initially.
- As with the bus driver, some of the passengers will be friendly, others will not. Saying “hi” or “good morning” could be the extent of communication with them. There is a chance that no one on the bus will say anything in response.
- Your child will have to signal to the driver when they want to get off, by using whatever method is on the bus—usually pulling a cord or pushing a button. Otherwise the driver will not stop.
Once you have reviewed the differences between a school bus and a public bus, it is time to plan the trip. Here we focus on learning to take the bus to work, but you can use any destination you think is appropriate, for example, the recreation center or a favorite restaurant.
Review Routes and Schedule Together
Look at the bus routes and schedules along with your child. Determine the best route to take to work.Write the number of the bus on an index card for your child to keep in their pocket. Index cards are good because the cards are stiff and do not crumple easily. You might also consider laminating the cards.
Bring a Charged Cell Phone
Have a rule that your child is always going to take their charged cell phone with them every time they get on the bus. Your child should always let their care provider know when they are leaving the house.If your child gets hurt, sick, or becomes afraid for any reason, they are to call their care provider or 911 (if it is “serious”).Your child should always call if their plans change—in any way—so no one worries about them.Your child’s care provider should be “speed dialed” into your child’s cell so they can call if they get scared, sick, or does not know what to do.
Information under “ICE” (“in case of emergency”) should also be stored on your child’s phone, in case they are unable to relate this information to another person.
Your child should also have some form of Identification on them, along with emergency contact information. They should wear a necklace or bracelet if they have a medical conditions or allergies that emergency responders would need to know about.
Figure out a method of payment to be used each time. Is your child going to use money or a bus pass? Whichever is chosen, it has to be ready when they get on the bus. That means they have to keep a lot of change at their house or keep track of where the bus pass is. Strategies: Have your child keep the pass in their billfold or put it on a neck lanyard and then put it in the same place every time at both work and home. If your child is paying daily, they should keep a bag of quarters at home for the bus and use a wallet or coin purse to hold the exact amount for each day. It should be prepared the night before as part of the night-time ritual.
The bus could get crowded and people could bump into your child. This could be very irritating to your child, so they may want to practice their response if something like this happens. For example, your child could put a thin briefcase, or a light jacket next to them so there would at least be something between them and another rider.Your child may also want to practice deep breathing, in case a situation like this cannot be avoided.
Practice What to Say
Your child may need to practice what to say to the bus driver. Set up chairs at home to serve as the bus, have someone role-play a bus driver, and have your child practice what they would say in different situations. For example: “Is this bus number 2, going to Central Avenue?”
Missing a Stop
What if your child misses his/her stop? Most likely, your child will be able to get off at the next stop and either walk a little further or take a return bus back to their regular stop. You may want to practice this on one of the bus trips.
- Do not give out personal information including last name, address, or phone number.
- Have your child practice saying the following when they get on the bus: “I am going to work. I have to get off at the Taco Bell” (or wherever they need to get off). Hopefully, if they say this when they get on the bus, the driver will keep an eye out for them.
- Teach your child to talk to the bus driver if there is a problem.
The Five Phases
Determine who is going to help your child to ride the bus. Start with one person to be the helper.
Review the previous information on the differences between a school bus and a public bus, and the planning and safety sections.
Ride the Bus
In this phase, you or a helper will stay at your child’s side and show them all the steps of riding the bus.
- Before your child gets on the bus, make sure they have taken care of their hygiene, are nicely dressed, and has their cell phone.
- With your child at the bus stop, point to the sign that shows the bus stops at this location.
- When you both see the bus you want, step up by the sign so the driver knows you want to get on. You may wave to the bus, too.
- Model saying “Good morning” to the bus driver and put your money in the box. Your child may add, “Hi, I am going to work. I have to get off by the Taco Bell.”
- Help your child determine which seat is best for them. Suggest they sit close to the driver.
- Talk to your child about appropriate manners while they are on the bus.
- Show your child the bell they are to ring when they want the bus to stop. It is also good to find a landmark to watch for that coincides with when they are to ring the bell.
- Have your child join you in saying “Thanks” to the driver when getting off the bus. The only caution here is that some buses stop on a sidewalk that can be very busy with pedestrians or bikes or both. Always look both ways when getting off the bus!
You may start at your child’s side and not say anything, then adjust further by sitting right behind them. As your child becomes more confident, you can become just another person on the bus. This may take a couple of bus trips or it could take quite a few —it just depends on how your child does.
As you begin to fade your assistance, it is important to allow your child to figure things out on their own and even make mistakes. You should not jump right in and fix things quickly, unless of course, your child is in danger. Allowing this kind of problem solving will help your child really handle the independence alone. A good example of this would be if your child forgets to ring the bell at their stop.
You may want to intervene only if a couple of stops have passed and it looks as if your child does not intend to ring the bell.
Follow in a Car
In this phase, your child will ride the bus independently and you will follow along in a car.
Be Available by Phone
Finally, your child will travel independently but will call you when they are leaving and after they arrive at their destination.
Different people will have to spend varying amounts of time in each phase. Let them take the lead on when they are ready to move on. Likewise, you may be able to skip some phases.
Encourage each step of the way with a reward. Coming up with a reward or incentive system may be a crucial component of successful bus training. Create a unique one for each person.
Use visuals as you think your child needs. Taking photographs and creating your own story might be fun for your child to show others what they are now doing on their own.
Being able to ride a bus independently is a great accomplishment. It opens a world of opportunity for your child. They will probably want to take the bus home from work. They may want to try to take the bus to different places all over their community, such as the recreation center, a movie, or even a restaurant. The possibilities are endless. For each new location, your child may require additional training using a similar process, though with experience, they may not take as long to achieve mastery.
Congratulations! You did it!