Best practices for special needs transportation
Written by Karen Sampson
When it comes to transportation to and from school, students with special needs require extra support and consideration. A consistent, positive experience on the way to school is important for every student — but it is especially vital for students with special needs who crave structure and regularity.
Students with special needs may have different ways of communicating or may become easily stressed by incidents that won’t affect other students. Anecdotal evidence suggests it can take 45 minutes to help a child focus after an upsetting incident or a disruptive trip to school. When a student’s day starts off on the wrong foot, it can translate into a negative learning experience for the entire school day.
In recognition of the growing number of students with special needs, we're outlining six key considerations to keep in mind that can help students with special needs successfully navigate the ins and outs of school transportation.
We're also sharing how HopSkipDrive addresses these considerations, serving as a trusted partner for schools, districts and organizations in meeting the individualized transportation needs of students with disabilities.
1. Communicating and sharing relevant information
Clear, effective communication plays an integral part in creating a positive school transportation experience for everyone involved — from students with disabilities or special needs to their parents or caregivers to schools or school districts. Providing relevant student information to drivers, including such things as music preferences and favorite subjects or topics, can help make the ride to school a comfortable and consistent experience.
How we do it
HopSkipDrive's user-friendly platform includes a section for Rider Notes, where parents/caregivers and Ride Organizers can share details specific to the Rider. This information keeps HopSkipDrive CareDrivers in the loop by making them aware of any special circumstances or preferences. Making sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to the individual routines and needs helps to establish a sense of safety and familiarity for the Rider.
2. Building a consistent routine
All children thrive on routines, but having an established way of doing things is especially important for students with special needs. Creating an entire process that is the same every day — from getting ready for school to waiting for the ride to getting dropped off at school, and everything in between — will set expectations and help students feel safe, calm and secure.
For students with special needs, in particular, consistency helps to foster a sense of independence and confidence in their ability to perform the activities of daily living. They become accustomed to meeting their driver at a designated pickup spot, for instance, and going through the predictable steps of getting buckled up and safely settled in the vehicle.
How we do it
Most HopSkipDrive Riders get to know a small group of trusted CareDrivers who drive in their community. In fact, a student typically encounters just one to three CareDrivers over the course of 90 days. In addition, the HopSkipDrive ride experience is designed to be consistent across multiple touch points, so students always know what to expect and feel comfortable, no matter who’s driving.
3. Forging empathetic relationships
When you are working or interacting with students in any capacity, building relationships with them is always important. The ride to school is the true start of the school day, so the goal should always be to begin it with empathy, compassion and patience.
Children with special needs may approach things differently or may require alternative instructions (like pictures) to understand directions. Even if a child is taking a long time to respond to a request or complete a task, it’s important not to interfere until asked — and also to positively reinforce independent actions.
For anyone who transports a child to school, it’s essential to understand the critical role they play in setting the tone for the entire day. When transporting children with special needs, trust must be built through consistency — being there at the same time; presenting the same friendly demeanor every day; driving safely; following the same routine. Experienced caregivers are well qualified for transporting students with special needs because they are well versed in interacting with and caring for children.
How we do it
At HopSkipDrive, our CareDrivers are experienced “caregivers on wheels” who have at least five years of experience working with or caring for children, family members or others who need help. CareDrivers must also meet many additional criteria before gaining access to the HopSkipDrive platform, and receive resources and information related to connecting with and understanding students with special needs or disabilities.
4. Planning ahead
Students with special needs may have physical or cognitive differences that require additional considerations when it comes to getting onto a bus or settled into a car. Planning ahead of time, knowing exactly what to expect and sticking to established routines can be helpful.
Children with disabilities may also have difficulty easily understanding and following directions, so demonstrating patience and employing appropriate communication methods is imperative.
How we do it
Rides can be scheduled on the HopSkipDrive platform in advance, and Riders and parents/caregivers can rest assured that the carefully devised HopSkipDrive ride process is always the same, every time.
On the day of the ride, real-time status updates are shared with Ride Organizers and parents/caregivers, keeping them informed of the CareDriver’s estimated time of arrival for pickup. This gives parents/caregivers ample time to prepare and make sure their Rider is ready.
Parents/caregivers also have access to photos of the CareDriver and their vehicle ahead of time, which can be shared with Riders to help them feel secure and prepared.
5. Using technology that provides ride transparency
In this day and age, alternative transportation solutions for students with special needs should use technology to provide end-to-end ride visibility for parents or caregivers and transportation staff. Yet, a recent School Bus Fleet survey showed that only nine percent of respondents use tracking for their special needs transportation (Thompson 2020).
How we do it
HopSkipDrive’s technology goes above and beyond to improve the student transportation experience from start to finish for everyone involved. HopSkipDrive’s ride tracking technology provides transparency for schools while alleviating anxiety for parents, who can track their child’s ride in real-time. It also enables students to see where their ride is so they know exactly when it’s coming.
6. Providing resources for drivers
Ongoing education and resources are necessary for anyone working with students with special needs, regardless of their experience. The best way to ensure transportation staff and drivers are making the proper allowances for special needs youth is to provide ongoing training.
Communication is one topic that drivers should continually be re-educated on, especially as it relates to students with special needs. Knowledge about trauma-informed care can also help drivers connect to students and navigate any potential issues that may arise.
Approaching transportation using a trauma-informed care lens can help drivers recognize and respond appropriately to trauma signs and symptoms. It’s also important to know how to not re-traumatize a child who exhibits these signs. Even something as simple as asking about the parents of a child in foster care, for example, can be upsetting for the child. A calm, empathetic approach always benefits every student in any given situation.
How we do it
HopSkipDrive makes resources and information on important topics like these available for CareDrivers as a means of ensuring a positive ride experience for all kids — including those who have undergone trauma and students with special needs.
HopSkipDrive partners with school districts all over the country to fulfill the transportation needs of students with special needs and those who have IEPs with transportation requirements.