Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Booking Time

I was tired and I was rushed. The lecture day was over, Joe had loaded the car, and a woman was standing talking to me telling me a story. I was listening, kind of, but I noticed Joe tapping his foot to the 'Let's go, let's go, let's go' beat. And because of this, I missed the point of her story. But I wasn't alone in this.

When we got to the car, Joe asked what she was telling me. I told him that she was a bus driver, driving kids with disabilities to school and back. She told me of a story about a little boy who got on her bus who would upset the other kids because he would scream long and loud. She tried several solutions to get him to sit quietly. None worked.

One day she brought a large picture book on the bus an sat with him. Getting him to turn pages and she'd read the words to him. She did this for several days and then noticed that he would now quietly turn the pages of the book. It was something that worked.

Several weeks later she decided to tell the teacher at the school about the solution to the problem of screaming on the bus. "He likes," she said, "looking at books on the ride to and from school." The teacher, not always a receptive lot, rolled eyes and said, "He's blind, he can't like picture books."

The driver was embarassed and wished she'd said nothing.

The woman told me this story to illustrate the point of 'poor communication' as the subject of my lecture today was communication.

I nodded and agreed that we do communicate poorly, I didn't add but should have - that if you are a bus driver or a janitor or a playground monitor - you're so far down on the respect-o-meter that you might as well be a parent.

So, driving back to the hotel, telling Joe her story something clicked.

He stopped screaming.

He looked at the book, quietly.

He's blind.

All this mushed around in my head. I wonder if he really liked having her sit with him, give him a gift of a book, read it to him, describe the pictures. Maybe as he flipped the pages her words stayed with him, maybe he saw the pages in his mind, maybe he liked being talked to and included. Maybe it wasn't about the book, maybe it was about the caring, the times spent together, the contact she'd made.

Maybe everyone missed the point.

Maybe the screaming meant, "I'm lonely in here."

Maybe the bus driver caring was all he needed.

Maybe the book was more than a book.

He stopped screaming.

He looked at a book.

He's not the one who is blind here.


Anonymous said...

I work in a house where all 5 of the people who live there have very high needs. One of the men is blind. He loves to have us sit with him and read to him.
As I am sure you can imagine, we can't sit with him and read all day long, although we do make time for it each day.
When he wants to be read to and we are just too busy with the other people in the house, he will sit in his chair and calmly turn the pages of his book, and he seems very happy and content.

Ashley's Mom said...

Halleluia!!! My 12 year old daughter is deafblind. You could have been describing her on the bus. I am ever so grateful when I read stories of people who 'get it'. Thank you for sharing and restoring my hope that perhaps one day someone will 'get it' with my daughter.


Kei said...

She reached him on a level his teachers haven't. The teacher assumes because he's blind, he can't enjoy a picture book. She sees his disability. The bus driver, not knowing what his disability was, gave him something that, at least during his time on the bus, took that disability away.

mmmmm... a nice warm story to overcome this drizzly morning. Thank you!

Ettina said...

I know a boy who's been described as congenitally blind, but he watches people and even uses gaze to communicate (he has severe CP). Measurement of sensory abilities is not very accurate in severely disabled people.

Anonymous said...

Hey! Not all of us special ed teacher types think that bus drivers and parents are way down on the totem pole. For my money, parents, especially are the first and foremost authorities on their children and bus drivers who like/love their charges come pretty far up there.


stevethehydra said...

The first thing that came to my mind reading this was "what if the kid's not really blind?"

Like the boy Ettina mentions, he could very easily have been misdiagnosed. It could be that the bus driver, because of her lack of preconceptions or "authoritative" diagnostic information, could work that out when the teachers couldn't, because they had been told he was blind, so therefore any evidence to the contrary had to be disregarded.

If the child can communicate well enough for it to be feasible, maybe someone should show him a picture and ask him what it's a picture of?

Andrea Shettle, MSW said...

When I went to middle school and high school back home in Massachusetts, I was bussed from Wellesley (which had no specialized services for deaf students) to Newton (where a hearing school had a mainstreaming program for deaf students). The driver, Mary Jane Kelley, was a marvelous woman with a beautiful heart. For some of the kids on the bus (all "special ed" students) I suspect she was probably the only person in their life who really listened to their problems and truly cared about them. I was lucky I had an enormously loving, supportive family and teachers. But her caring meant a lot to me, too. She knew that I occasionally wrote articles for my high school newspaper, and she knew that the school paper came out on Fridays. So every single Friday, she would ask if something I had written was in print that week. If it was, then she would insist on reading it in bits and snatches during every red light between school and home. So that meant she always saw my printed articles even before my parents did. And, of course, she always thought anything I wrote was terrific :-)

Oh, and one time she was surprised to discover that a 5-year-old on the bus knew nothing about money. So she got permission from both the parents and the school to help teach him about money and gave him a quick lesson on it -- five pennies to a nickel, 10 pennies to a dime, yada yada -- I remember she borrowed a dollar from me so she could explain that a dollar was worth 100 pennies)

I'm glad to know that there's at least one teacher out there who realizes just how valuable the good, caring drivers are. It always saddens me when I hear stories about drivers who aren't so nice or competent (and unfortunately, there are some), and it always saddens me when I hear about teachers or parents who paint all drivers with a bad brush because SOME of them are awful. Or who don't take drivers seriously at all. I think every child who has to ride a "special ed" bus deserves a driver like Mary Jane Kelley of Wellesley Massachusetts.

(I specify "special ed" buses not because I don't care about non-disabled kids, but because "special ed" buses tend to deal with far fewer students, so there is a LOT more opportunity for the driver to actually get to know each and every individual child. Compared to buses that carry 50 students at a time. So I think a "good driver" MEANS a lot more with special ed kids.)

Anonymous said...

who was driving?