Riding the Bus with Students with Autism

A few months ago, while winter weather was still very much alive and well, I was asked to help out with a trip to the Museum of Science. There is a “strand” at my school for students with autism. The middle school classroom has about nine students in it, with a head teacher, two paraprofessionals and one fellow like me. The fellow is great at recruiting the rest of us to help out with field trips and special events that the head teacher puts on for the students so I signed up, albeit with some reservations since I don’t have much experience working with students with autism.

Routine and schedule are important for students with autism; I was told they don’t like surprises. So I got to the classroom with time to spare so I could be introduced and the schedule for the day could be laid out. We’d be taking a yellow school bus to and from the museum.

“Not the train?” the tallest student asked. He didn’t seem worried just a little disappointed.

Soon we were all clambering onto the bus and finding our seats. I had a seat to myself and my colleague who had also volunteered sat across from me. We chatted politely about the Museum and the bus and whatnot.

As we were pulling up to the museum we heard a voice pipe up from the front of the bus.

“The green line!”

Sure enough, the green line stop right by the Museum was in full few.

“The train is going to Lechmere,” he pointed out, accurately.

As we pulled through the traffic light I heard, “Look a train! Commuter rail!” Across the river, headed towards North Station was a commuter rail train chugging along.

I was struck first by his keen eye for the small train in the distance and by his clear knowledge of the T. But then I was struck by how I had underestimated him. Just because he doesn’t have the social skills of other kids his age doesn’t mean he isn’t smart, doesn’t mean he lacks hobbies or passions.

On the way back from the Museum one of the other teachers was quizzing him about the T and his answers were a little mixed, but pretty solid. I was hooked. The next week, when time came to volunteer to go with the class to the Museum again, I signed up.

This time the bus ride was more exciting because I got to sit next to a student, D, on the way back. She and I were becoming buddies, if I do say so myself. We’d been partners at the museum and she even held my hand on the escalator. I was in good standing. So on the bus ride back, as the tallest student dutifully pointed out the Green line on our way out of the Museum, D started giggling.

“Weasels.” Apparently a favorite animal. We giggled much of the way back to school as her infectious laugh filled the bus.

Though I am no expert when it comes to working with students with autism (my hat is off to those who do), I felt really lucky to get to ride with them to the Museum not once but twice. T trivia, weasels, and joy. Not a bad bus ride.

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