Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Autism Awareness, or Lack Thereof, on a Halifax Bus

An autistic boy, one of 15 autistic children taking part in a field trip, was recently removed from a Halifax bus following what the transit authority described as disruptive behavior, piercing screams by the boy. The Canadian Press reports a difference of opinion over whether the boy was ordered to get off the bus by the driver, as alleged by his father, or whether the boy and his counselor left the bus voluntarily, as alleged by the transit authority spokesperson. The transit authority maintains an investigation is still ongoing even though it has already concluded that the boy was not ordered off the bus.

I find it unlikely that the boy and his counselor simply got off the bus without being either directed to get off ..... or being pressured to get off. The transit spokesperson has stated that the bus driver did not order the boy off the bus:

"The spokeswoman said images recorded by a surveillance camera aboard the bus indicate the driver told a counsellor that he couldn't keep driving unless Izaak's "piercing" outbursts stopped.

The spokeswoman quoted the driver as saying, "I can't drive if that keeps up."

"He said he was concerned that he couldn't continue to drive the bus because it was distracting."

Patterson said the driver did not ask to have the boy removed, and it appeared Izaak and his counsellor left the bus voluntarily."

If you accept the transit authority's position then it still seems likely to me that the counselor would have interpreted the driver's statement as an indication that the boy would have to be removed from the bus since they might not have been able to guarantee he would not continue with the screaming. I do not believe they felt that the boy's continued presence was wanted on the bus.

I am the father of a 13 year old boy with Autistic Disorder. He loves going for drives, even long drives, and is generally quiet and well behaved. There are times though, including yesterday, when his behavior could be described as "distracting". Sometimes he does engage in piercing screams, although they usually subside. Sometimes he pulls my hair or tries to grab my arm. When he does these things he is seated directly behind me; in close proximity. He is closer to me, arms's reach, then a boy on a bus would be to the driver.

I don't have the luxury of refusing to drive my son. I have to focus on the road despite any "distracting" behavior he might engage in. I don't know if the driver in question knew he would be driving a group of autistic children or whether the transit authority knew. It seems that the driver in question, accepting the transit authority's position on what was said, is not familiar with autism disorders and should not be driving autistic children without further training.

Anyone driving autistic children should be prepared to drive with some "distraction". As the father of a 13 year old boy with Autistic Disorder I know this, from experience, to be true.

Bookmark and Share


farmwifetwo said...

Unlike the ND crowd and it appears the ABA crowd, I actually agree with the bus driver... See, I have NEVER put up with that behaviour while I am driving. My children learned early that the moment it started was the moment I pulled off the road and waited it out. Oh, there were some WONDERFUL (NOT!!!)meltdowns and behaviour... but they learned, and they learned quickly that it was INEXCUSABLE to behave in that manner and even more so when I was driving.

Using "autism" as an excuse to allow for dangerouse behaviour on a bus or in a car is not excusable. Had there been that level of noise/behaviour of "normal" people they would have been asked to leave.

What makes autism any different???

Unknown said...

Good for you FW2, I am sure you are one tough cookie and your child does as told and does not need ABA etc etc etc.

I am happy that your child is so well behaved and well adjusted. You may not be aware of this but there are a number of children with autism disorders who are more severely affected than your child appears to be. You may check out the videos that I linked in a recent post concerning severe autism as an example.

Your child clearly is not severely autistic or it would take more than your toughness to address the behavioral issues involved.

Stephanie said...

My parents used to try the "tough" approach and that never worked with me. Yeah right. After a two hour episode of me screaming in the car for my "Clowny" (clown doll I used to carry around with me everywhere) and throwing things at their heads they gave that approach up.

Danon said...

Wow! I can say there is a clear misunderstanding of the severity of the spectrum for some people (FW2.) I will agree, you are lucky. As am I. I have one very young child (3) with autism. In which he is very functional and ultra relaxed. he can ride in the car for hours. However, I have been fortunate to be in contact with children who cannot. It is tough to understand, but some Autistic children CAN NOT help it. IT takes years and years in many cases for a child to understand simple right and wrong. It is unfortunate in this case that the bus driver, or anyone in the decision making process did not have contingency plans in place. Or made the driver and aware of what "could" happen and how to handle it. Simply pulling the bus over to calm the child would have sufficed. My wife is a big proponent of the tough love when needed. By that I mean she is not soft on our son when we are teaching him right and wrong, and again we are lucky, but this stuff happens, and will continue to happen. Educating ones self to all possibilities, and how to handle them is the key. There really is no room for closed minded beliefs.

Anonymous said...

Farmwife-the "tough love" approach is not always realistic for severely autistic children who have a very difficult time making connections between cause and effect. Some would have NO CLUE that you were sitting there waiting them out no matter how many times you did this. You are lucky your children do make this connection but for many it is an impossible task for them.

Breaking the skill down more is the answer and looking at the "why" of behaviors. So for example, going on short trips and rewarding them for tolerating that with no behaviors and elongating the trips slowly. Also, looking at the "why" of behaviors in a car. Is it too hot, too cold, sensory (they don't like seatbelts, etc.) Again breaking these problems down and desensitizing them is the answer. Finally, lack of appropriate communication is always a problem so giving them a way of communicating and giving them visual schedules, e.g. first store/then home is always helpful. This is a more balanced way to teach kids how to tolerate things.

Anonymous said...

Different Anonymous- I too would have left the bus, but not for the reasons that FW2 gave -I would have got off the bus because the child was clearly in distress. Stopping the bus might not have been enough if the crowds and/or smells were what were triggering the problem. Getting off the bus, away from the noise and the people would have given the child the time and space to calm down.

BTW, I followed the story quite closely in the G&M, and was disgusted by the intolerance and rude comments.

Barry Hudson said...

Hi Harold,

I was in Dartmouth (NS) when this story broke and speaking with locals that were there tends to lend more credence to your interpretation than any other interpretation.

FarmWifeTwo – with all due respect not all those on the spectrum have self control, nor the abilities to prevent some behaviours. Impulse control is not always the best for some on the spectrum. I recommend you read the Carly Fleishmann blog where she (a significantly afflicted person on the spectrum) details the difficulty of self control - We can not apply one standard to all those on the spectrum – I know a young man whose affliction is of such severity that his self injury behaviour, without him being medicated, would indeed likely lead to either significant physical damage or even death (ever see a person bang their head through a one inch plaster wall?). I do not think tough love will help this young man.

To answer your question directly about what makes this different is the way the child was treated. Clearly from the child’s behaviour the driver would have recognized something was “not right” with the child (I do not mean to be offensive by saying “not right”, the response here is to help not admonish). Long before my son was born I was witness to a similar event (in Dartmouth) and the bus driver pulled over, asked if everything was ok, the mother explained the child had autism and the driver asked what he could do to help and that he can wait for a few minutes before driving again since he could not drive with the noise, the child calmed down with a sensory toy and after less than five minutes we were on our way. The mother was crying when she left the bus and I asked her why she was crying and she told me she was crying because she was so happy – the bus driver (in her words) was the most wonderful understanding man she had ever met. I did not really understand the impact of that event but now that I have a son on the spectrum I understand it very well. The recent case did not have the same experience. The issue is not one of ND or ABA crowd concepts – it is simply one more example where those on the spectrum do not get human respect simply because they can not perform like some humans among them.