School Bus Driver and Aide Training for Interacting with Students with Special Needs
- Welcome to the training on transporting students with disabilities. This training was prepared by the New Jersey Department of Education in collaboration with the New Jersey Joint Council of County Special Services School Districts.
- The goal of this training is to give you important information to assist you in transporting students with disabilities safely. Specifically, you will learn about some behaviors that are related to specific disabilities; some behavior management strategies that you can use with different student populations, and the use and operation of adaptive equipment.
- Let's first go over some basic information. Each person that we know in our lives is different from any other person in our lives. The same principle applies to students with disabilities. Two students may have autism, but one may talk to you throughout the bus ride, while the other may not speak at all. The range of the disability could be mild, where you can hardly tell such as with a learning disability or it could be a severe physical disability where the student may not be able to walk and has other medical needs. Remember that regardless of the disability, all students need to understand exactly what is expected of them. It is important to be clear about expectations and keep in mind that, like anyone else, students with disabilities may have good days or bad days.
- Now that we have reviewed how each student is different, we can look at some of the supports a student may need for school. The supports or accommodations a student needs at school to succeed and access learning are dictated by the student's Individualized Education Program also known as the IEP. These accommodations are provided by the adults who support them in their educational environment. Here is an example: A student may require certain physical equipment such as a wheelchair in order to get from one place to another. Or a student may need behavior supports to help him or her to deal with challenging situations he or she may encounter. Another example of an accommodation is to provide textbooks in large print, if the student has a visual impairment. We are going to get into more specific strategies throughout this training session that will assist you with transporting students safely.
- You should be aware of some of the physical accommodations a student may need on a bus. Students may need a wheelchair, or they may need assistance walking by using a walker or crutches for support. These are considered what we call, "mobility aids." Items that help to protect the student from harm and keep the bus safe while in motion include equipment such as: helmets for students who may injure themselves by hitting their head, harness/safety vests for students who get out of their seat while the bus is in motion; or seat belt locks which go over the seat belt and make it difficult for the student to take off his/her seat belt when on the bus. Some students may need accommodations with environmental conditions on the bus such as temperature control. For example, a hot environment or an environment with flashing lights inside the bus may evoke a seizure. Another physical environment accommodation may be to keep the noise level low on the bus. For example: Noise level on the bus, including from the radio, could be a factor for students who are sensitive to noise. It may cause a student to engage in challenging behaviors such as crying, hitting, or kicking.
- The physical accommodations a student needs will then identify what types of securement systems you might need on the bus for safety purposes. If you have students in wheelchairs on your bus, then you may have multipoint tie-down systems, strap-type system, and docking systems to keep the wheelchair secure during the bus ride. Other safety restraints that may be necessary could include a three-point seat belt, harness/safety vest or a car seat for children who are small in order to keep them safe while transporting the student to and from school. You need to know how to get students in and out of these types of equipment.
- Some students communicate differently and that will affect how you understand them and they understand you. The basic way of communicating to others is by talking. However, students with disabilities do not all communicate by talking. Communication methods are not the same for all students. For example, some students can speak very clearly while others may not be able to speak at all. So, students who have trouble using words to communicate may have other types of systems in place that you need to know about. They could include communicating through the use of sign language, picture cards, devices that speak for the student (also, known as a "talker"), and social stories which help the student understand what you are saying through the use of picture cues and words.
- On this slide you will see two types of communication aids a student may have. On the left there is a communication device. This specific program is being used to show the student that he or she needs to wait for five minutes. The timer will count down, and it will help the student to understand that he/she will be home soon and, therefore, will wait quietly as the bus drives them home or to school. What we see on the right-hand side are communication cards. The student will flip through the cards to tell you what he or she may want or need. As an example, it looks like in this picture the student is indicating he or she is hungry by showing us the "lunch" card.
- Let's look at some more examples of communication tools a student may use. On the left you will see what is called a "Picture Exchange Communication System" also, known as a "PECS" book. The pictures are typically organized by category within the book and the student locates what he or she needs from the book and places the pictures on the blue horizontal strip located on the bottom and then hands the blue strip with the pictures on it over to a communicative partner. You would look at it and say what it is that the student has put on the blue strip. Here is an example: The student puts a picture of home on the blue horizontal strip and hands it to you. You may then say, "I want to go home." You could respond by saying, "Sure! We're going home now."
- On the right-hand side of the screen, what you see is called a "Go Talk." This device is used by a non-verbal student by pushing the button and then the device says the word aloud. The student may ask for a toy such as the toy keys in the picture. You could then get the toy keys for the student to hold while riding the bus.
- There are many types of disabilities, and in this training we are going to review some of the most common ones and what you might expect when dealing with a student with that disability. We will also give you strategies to support the student while in your care. Some students with special needs may have: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or (ADHD), Autism Spectrum Disorder or (ASD), Emotional or Behavioral disorders or ED or BD students, and students with Multiple Disabilities referred to commonly as MD.
- We will examine these four types of disabilities, starting first with ADHD, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder may have the following types of behaviors. They may not seem like they're listening when you are talking to them, but they actually are! They do not always make good eye contact at times. They can display behaviors that may be very impatient or stubborn. They may struggle to follow your directions. Students may blurt out inappropriate comments without thinking and have a difficult time keeping their emotions under control. Students with ADHD often times act without regard to the consequences of their behaviors. The words come out of their mouths faster than he or she can take them back. They may fidget a lot in their seats and seem like they are "in motion." Lastly, they tend to interrupt others when speaking. This is not intended to be rude or disrespectful toward adults.
- Knowing some of the characteristics of a student with ADHD will help you to understand how to support this student. It is okay to continuously repeat and restate directions in a positive tone. The student needs these types of reminders as the student may forget what you said due to their disability. Continuously model appropriate behavior by understanding the student's needs and modeling how to keep your voice calm and neutral at all times. Keep your emotions in check. Show through your actions how to act appropriately. Although students may try your patience, it is always important to remember to be calm, keep your voice neutral, and just repeat the directions, as needed. Yelling is ineffective at redirecting students with ADHD. It will only escalate the situation. A good strategy is to use visuals as needed paired with your words. On the right, is an example of a "Rule Card." They help students to understand expectations as we discussed earlier.
- Let's look at students with Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD. Students with autism spectrum disorder have difficulty making eye contact with you and may look as though they can't hear you. This is similar to a student with ADHD. The difference here is these students will not respond to your verbal directions consistently. They have difficulty understanding language and communicating their needs to you. You need to understand that these students can hear you; therefore, speaking loudly will not help. Most students with autism do not have a hearing impairment. Some students with ASD could make a humming sound or high-pitched sounds or noises. Even though a student is making noise, remember that he or she may be sensitive to the noises, as well, especially loud sounds or crying. Students with autism may say the same thing repeatedly or talk about the same topic over and over again. An example may be talking about planets. If you try to talk about something else they will react by talking about planets again. It is not meant to be rude or disrespectful toward adults. They do it because that is what is comfortable to them. Students with autism have the most difficulty communicating with others. Therefore, you need to understand that, because they cannot express their wants and needs clearly. They sometimes "act out" by hitting, kicking, yelling, crying, or engaging in other types of challenging behaviors.
- When you're transporting students with autism, you want to use clear and concise language. For example, you can say, "Please sit down." Or "Please take your seat." Remember that less is more. You should state your expectation for the student in as few words as possible. When the student is engaging in appropriate behavior be sure to use positive language such as, "Wow! I like the way you are sitting!" Being specific about what he or she has done well will help.
- Just like students with ADHD you should avoid yelling or getting physically upset and showing your emotions. This will only make the student more upset and the situation will get worse.
- Many times students with autism will need to have something to occupy their time while traveling to and from school. It may help if they are listening to music, holding a favorite item or using their iPad. This may help the student stay calm during the bus ride to or from school. However, when they become upset, you may need to remove the item quickly and then give the student some space.
- Students with autism are very routine-oriented. Therefore, they know their bus route to school and home from school and they know it well. If there is a change in the bus route you need to know that this student may become very upset. In this type of situation be sure to let the student know verbally that the bus route is going to change ahead of time. Visual pictures can be used to ensure that the student understands that there is going to be a change. Another way to support the student is to say, "We are going a different way today. What are we doing?" The student may respond, "Going a different way today." (If the student is verbal). In this manner, you are checking for understanding. If a student has difficulty understanding verbal language you can use a visual schedule like the one you see here. And say, "First I need to ride on the bus and then I will be home."
- Now let's review some behaviors that students with Emotional Disorders may engage in during the transport. Students who have trouble regulating their emotions need as much help as other students with different disabilities. These are the type of students that you think "might know better," but really need your support and patience. Students with this type of disability may argue with adults and lose their tempers easily. They may tend to say or do the opposite of what you say by refusing to follow the rules. They may blame others for their own mistakes. They could say it is your fault. Students who have difficulty regulating their emotions will try to get a reaction from other students and adults on the bus. They may curse and be disrespectful to others. These are the types of behaviors you might see from a student with an emotional or behavior disorder.
- Here's what you can do to support a student with emotional disorders. Stay calm and keep a positive relationship with the student by listening and rephrasing what the student has said to you. They need to know that you are listening and care about them. It is important not to engage in a power struggle with the student. It is not about who is right; it is about keeping everyone safe on the bus. You should continue to speak in a calm tone and avoid yelling. If you start to yell, then the student may start to yell which could escalate the situation. That is not what you want to happen on a bus in a closed-in area. When the student is upset, you should give him or her some space. If there is an issue with behavior, your job will be to observe and report the facts. You are not the person who gives out the consequences or discipline. Follow your school policies regarding how to report an incident.
- The next population of students that we will review today is students with Multiple Disabilities. This means the student has more than one disability which may include ADHD, Autism, Emotional Disorder, Learning Disability, Genetic Disorder, and/or a Physical Disability. Their intellectual disability may range from mild to severe. The same thing applies to difficulty with muscle coordination. Students may be able to walk on their own or they may need physical accommodations as discussed earlier in this training. This would include wheelchair, walkers, and crutches as examples. Some students who have a multiple disability will have difficulty communicating or may not be able to speak. They may use accommodations such as the communication devices discussed earlier. Students with multiple disabilities may engage in inappropriate behaviors as well, and as in all cases, it is important to remember that each student is unique and will have different needs.
- Here are some strategies that you can utilize when transporting students with Multiple Disabilities, also, referred to as MD students. Remember to speak calmly, as with any population you are transporting. It will help if you have students repeat the directions back to you because they will be more likely to follow the directions. You should redirect the student as needed and repeat the direction, as needed. It will help if you use gestures as you speak to help the student understand the expectation. For example, you can say "Please sit down" and at the same time point to the seat. Sometimes it is better just to point and not use words. You should give compliments when the student is doing the right thing such as, "Wow! You are such a good listener." Giving the student positive attention throughout the bus ride may curb some of the challenging behavior.
- Earlier in the training we discussed that each student has an "IEP" which is an Individualized Education Program. This is a legal document that needs to be followed at all times. The populations that we discussed may have in their IEP what is called a Behavior Plan. Behavior Plans are specific procedures that need to be followed for the student to be successful. This is a protocol that needs to be implemented consistently by each person on the bus. If a student has a behavior plan for the bus, someone from the school will need to give you instructions on what to do.
- Here are some examples of strategies and procedures that may be outlined in the IEP.
- Use preferential seating and move the student away from other students as needed to keep the bus ride safe.
- An aide on the bus may need to sit right next to the student or behind the student to watch him or her closely.
- An aide may need to prevent the student from hurting him or herself or others by blocking the behavior which could be hitting.
- The plan may give directions on providing positive attention frequently and praising the student for good behavior.
- Now we are going to change topics and talk about emergency medical situations on the bus. The purpose of this training is to give you the tools you need to remain calm and deal with different situations as they come up so everyone remains safe.
- During emergency situations you should pull over and call 911. Track the time of the incident and check for a medical bracelet that may alert you to a medical condition.
- Continue to protect the student from hazards and stay with and provide emotional support to the student until medical personnel arrive. You should always document such incidences and follow the policies of the student's school district and/or the transporting authority or agency.
- Be aware of any unusual interactions between students.
- It is required by law that you report the incidents of bullying or any other behavior incidents to the principal of the receiving school and to your supervisor.
- By law you need to abide by several laws and regulations including the HIPPA privacy act. This means you need to protect the student by being confidential with the information you know about any student. You can speak to the student's parents or guardian and school staff, but you are not permitted to talk about the student to friends, neighbors or your families. Never discuss the student or complain about the student or situations in front of the student or other students. If there is an issue to report regarding confidentiality, you should let your supervisor and the student's school district know as soon as possible.
- Please remember that you may not at any time share information about a student other than to school personnel or the parents or guardian of the student.
- The only exception would be in case of an emergency.
We are drawing near the end of this training. It is time to recap some important points to remember:
- It is important to remain calm at all times.
- It is your responsibility to support the students on the bus and help them to travel safely.
- You should always assume that every student understands what you are saying. If you wouldn't say the same statement in front of their parents or guardian then a good rule of thumb is not to say it at all.
- Alert the school principal and your supervisor of any behavioral issues so everyone can work as a team to support the student.
- Your role is to keep students safe and report issues by completing an incident report for the principal as quickly as possible but always within the policy guidelines of the transporting authority or agency.
- In conclusion, remember not to take students' actions personally; they have a disability. It is sometimes better not to respond and give the student space. Ensure that you are consistent; that you communicate in a way that students understand by using clear and concise language; and that students know and understand the expectations. Always be positive and supportive! If you are unsure what to do with a specific student or situation, ask for help from the transporting authority or agency through your supervisor. Remember that your role in getting children to and from school safely is an important one.
- We thank you for your time and dedication to the children of New Jersey!