‘I heard loud honking and a gruff, ‘COME ON!’ He refused to make eye contact with me.’: Mom to children with autism shares upsetting bus stop moment

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“This morning was like every morning since just over a week ago, when the bus driver let us know she’d be picking our twins up early because more children had opted in to take the bus, and instead of being the last on the route, we would now be the first. However happy to accommodate, it has made our need to be at the end of our driveway happen thirty minutes earlier each day. The morning hustle that was relaxed at the start of school, offering more than enough time to get the twins through any anxiety starting a new day may bring, now began to feed off of my anxious energy on if we’d make the bus at all.

Because Luca woke up at 5:30 a.m., far earlier than his typical 7:15 a.m. stumble out of bed, he was dressed and ready by 7:15 a.m., allowing space for Alex to have a melt-down, refusing to put any clothes on, forgetting wash her face and brush her hair, and allowing Jack to fixate on how he felt like no one liked him at school because he wasn’t able to be the line leader the day before. We worked to give Alex options for clothes, hoping giving her some control would calm her tears and stomping feet, but when this didn’t work, and the minutes ticked closer to 7:45 a.m., we made the choices for her, providing her in the comfiest sweatpants and her favorite V-neck T-shirt, hoping she would feel even if we chose for her, we did so with her preferences in mind.

As I carried her clinging to my chest, tears chasing the snot of upset she held strongly to, I worked to talk Jack through why he felt scared to go to school, trying to pinpoint if there was an incident outside of not being a line leader we could give him the tools to better understand. Luca followed down the stairs to the garage in tow, clearly annoyed at the whining and crying happening in front of him, but willing to carry on with the routine, knowing what was expected of him. At 7:47 a.m., all three kids were strapped into their seats, and as I began to push the ignition, the car let me know the key fob was not present in the vehicle, requiring I run back upstairs to find it. 7:49 a.m. is when we were finally able to drive down the driveway.

The bus comes at 7:55 a.m. The BEST mornings are when the boys have a moment or two to stand outside the car, with their jackets and masks on, feeling pumped to climb the yellow chariot stairs and head to school. Coaxing them out of the car this morning, I asked Jack to tell me the story of the Gruffalo, as no further progress dissecting school anxiety had occurred, and I needed any distraction to redirect his attention to a happy task if I wanted any hope of him smiling as he got onto the bus. Luca remained in his seat, firm in his power struggle to have some control. I pulled a bag of gummy bears out of my back pocket, for which he was willing to exit, put on his jacket and mask, and chew happily while we waited at 7:53 a.m.

When the bus pulled toward our spot, both boys were happy, cheering as it opened its doors. Jack proceeded to tell his bus monitor about the story of the brave and wise mouse in the Gruffalo, and Luca finished his gummy bears. They went right to their seats. The bus monitor had them strapped in by 7:57 a.m., and I remained waving, cheering on their good work. And then I heard it, just a moment before the bus monitor moved to the back of the small bus to take her seat—the gruff, frustrated voice of the gentleman two cars back. ‘COME ON!’ he hollered.

I recognized the voice. I knew the voice. I waved a final time as the moment the monitor was safely seated, the boys eyes looked forward to the day ahead and the bus continued on its route. My eyes watched intently as the cars followed the bus, and I saw his face. He refused to make eye contact with me, because he knew I’d be looking for him. He drove with his windows down of that beat-up old maroon SUV, and as he drove past, this time I made sure to look at his license plate. I made note because when our bus route changed, the first morning when we really understood what 30 minutes meant for our twins’ routine, they had not had as successful of a bus stop as this morning.

There were streams of tears that morning, from both twins. Neither were ready to face the day. The friendly face of the young boy who used to be picked up before them was not sitting in the front seat smiling at them. I had been an anxious mess running late, and we hadn’t had an extra ten minutes to sit and talk about how wonderful the day was about to be, really prepping them for success as they began. So yes, as I had to physically hand each off to the monitor, while they kicked and screamed, it took a few extra minutes. Painful for all involved, we did our best to try to reassure them.

So when I stood outside my car waving, dancing like a fool, singing, trying to do anything to invoke laughter instead of tears out of my children, this gentleman honked loudly, hollering to ‘HURRY UP’ as the bus monitor worked as quickly as she could to buckle the seatbelts of my upset children. For children on the spectrum, transitions can be very difficult. For my children, auditory disruptions equally so. We had the perfect storm that morning of challenging behaviors due to the transition, but the way this man’s impatience disrupted it further was uncalled for. Not just because it scared my children, but because it was completely disrespectful to the incredible humans who were showing up for our kids every day to drive and monitor the bus, despite the times of COVID we are all facing.

The last thing they need for sounds thrown their way are negative tones of ignorance and disrespect. All they should hear as they do their jobs are the cheers of congratulations and gratitude. I had been so upset that morning, I yelled at him the explanation their seatbelts were being fastened, and he needed to find some patience. When he then proceeded to gesture a certain finger at me, my blood boiled to a level if Alex hadn’t still be strapped in her seat in the car, I would have chased his car down the road. (I’m Italian, it’s really not my fault.)

When he revisited our morning routine this time, although anger resurfaced, I spent the drive to Alex’s school considering what I truly wanted out of the situation. Was I mad? Sure. Would I love to see him get in trouble? I must have, or why did I feel it important to note the license plate number? I mean, what did he do—experience a little road rage? I don’t know what the extra moments of my children’s morning routine made him late for. It must have been really important to get him this upset. After the six minutes it took to drive Alli, I realized, no, I didn’t need him to get in trouble. What I needed was simply for him to understand the following:

At 7:55 a.m., there are twin toddlers on the autism spectrum who board a bus on the very busy main road on his route. Some mornings it takes less than three minutes—an average red light takes 60-90 seconds, by the way—and some mornings it may take a few minutes longer. If watching my humble self dance like a fool, yelling how proud I am so they can hear me through the window as I wave and make ‘I love you’ sign language with my other hand is this upsetting to you, the whole disruption can be avoided by leaving to start your route so you pass our house before 7:55 a.m.

I want him to recognize a smaller bus is not simply just another bus. It indicates it is carrying children and young adults with special needs. I want him to be aware when you see two young boys, less than five-feet tall, they are most likely of an age they cannot, and should not, be buckling themselves into the seats where seat belts are required for their safety. It’s simply not as fast as when an older, neurotypical child, enters a bus, takes a seat, and once seated the bus driver can take off. I want to tell him our son, who has a hard time managing his big feelings, has learned Belly Breathing can be really helpful in moments where he feels himself turning into a monster. (I’ll even give him the youtube link to watch the Common and Elmo video. It’s a catchy tune!)

Lastly, I want to tell him our bus drivers and monitors are some of the most under-appreciated frontline essential employees who truly deserve the utmost respect. If he has ever felt under appreciated, I would hope he could find empathy in the moments of frustration when he couldn’t find the time in the morning to depart five minutes sooner to avoid being stuck behind a paused bus picking up two small boys at the beginning of its route. There is a reason things make us feel a certain way, whether it be furious or joyful, confused or complacent. We feel things because it means there is something to say, something to teach, or something to share.

I share this today to remind us all a few extra moments of patience and grace for each other is far more important than any retribution or transfer of negative feelings we give someone else. No one knows what another’s going through. No one knows how a person’s day has started, is going, or will continue to go in the moments that follow. We can, however, share what we know: our journeys and stories, in the hopes we can work to change other’s hearts and minds to make our world better. Maybe that gentleman will never see this.

Maybe I’ll find a way to share with him the facts around this situation, so his perspective can ease up, and he can find the moments to Belly Breathe, not causing any added anxiety for my small children on the bus, or the two incredible adult humans simply trying to do their jobs. Or, maybe he’ll yell at me again tomorrow because he can’t find a way to leave five minutes earlier to avoid the whole thing. Either way, if you read this, thank you for being with us on this journey. If you think someone else could benefit from reading, please share—however your time and channels allow.

With love, from the anxiety-ridden, goofball mom who dances, cheers, and signs to her twins stopping traffic five days a week at 7:55 a.m. To all the other caretakers getting their groove on because it makes their kids happy to know you put their happiness before anything else: I see you.”

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Christina Young. You can follow their journey on Instagram and their website. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

Read more from Christina:

‘Do they know you have a wife?’ She said, ‘H*ll no. She knows I have kids, though.’: Wife accidentally outs spouse, worries for the judgment to come, ‘I hope one day it won’t matter who we love’

‘Jack went to his classmate’s first birthday party, played with friends, and even sat down to sing before cake.’: Mom of twins learns important lesson, ‘We learned about the magic of autism’

‘My anxiety feels unmanageable.’ I feel my entire body get tight. I get incredibly tense, from my legs to my head.’: Autism mom explains anxiety during COVID-19, ‘Lack of control can feel paralyzing’

‘Week two of quarantine, I was acting like my 4-year-old to my adult spouse. ‘Please don’t let this be my karma.’: Mom of three ‘wild ones’ reminds others ‘YOU ARE NOT ALONE’

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