Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Story Bus

It all started about a month and a half ago. I picked Anderson up from school, and he was a little bit agitated. I could tell something was up with him, but his teacher in the afternoon is not his teacher during the preschool portion of the day, so it isn't always possible to get the full scoop on how his day went. Fortunately, their school has a system in place for parent/teacher communication. He has a communication log in his folder, where his teacher and I can write notes back and forth. Sure enough, when I got home and checked the folder, there was a note from the teacher. I can't remember the exact words, but it essentially described what was apparently a moment of sheer horror for the boy. It was....(insert sinister music here)...THE STORY BUS!!!

What is the story bus, you ask? Well, it's actually a part of a public library program called "Storytime to Go". A local software company donated a bus used for training transportation to the library, and thus a mobile storytime program was born. Unfortunately for Anderson, the public library shares the bus with his preschool center (Lexington Hearing and Speech Center, for anyone curious. They have a daycare, preschool, and Kindergarten program, as well as outpatient speech therapy services. A local non-profit--they're amazing). This means that the "Story Bus" comes to our preschool every other week, which is more often than other preschool centers. Now, most kids would be thrilled about this. Amelia ADORES the story bus. But Anderson? Not so much.

Here is the Story Bus. Notice the average child excited to climb aboard. Quaint, jolly, aging bus driver an added bonus. What kid wouldn't like this? 

So, the Story Bus comes to LHSC.  Anderson's class is outside, lined up all ready to get on, and the automatic steps come down.  Anderson starts to cry hysterically.  His loving classroom assistant, Ms. Anna, picks him up and tries to carry him aboard. Anderson climbs her like a spider monkey and claws at her neck, nearly drawing blood. He is visibly shaking. Needless to say, Anderson did not get on the story bus this day.  This was the gist of the note from his teacher.  She explains that they will try a social story next time, to try to prepare him.

Random, happy children on the Story Bus ( photo courtesy of local paper). Nothing scary here--just some fun decorations and books!
 Of course, I asked him immediately about the Story Bus. His comment was, "The Story Bus doesn't move..." and then "We don't have to get on the Story Bus..."  Hmmm.  Now I know my kid.  There are some situations that we can remedy with a social story.  But, for him, some things are so frightening and sensory-based that a social story ain't gonna cut it, in terms of helping him cope.  I could tell that this was one of THOSE situations. We were either going to have to completely conquer the Story Bus issue by just forcing him to get on, or we were going to have to accept that he isn't Story Bus material.

I'm a "conquer your fears" kind of girl. As a child, I had a terrible phobia of needles.  As in, at one doctor's appointment when I was about five, I fought an antibiotic injection so forcefully that the doctor, as he wrestled me like we were in a WWF match, told my dad that he should spank me...a story that was joyfully retold as I got older.  When I went to get my shots for 6th grade, I got so pale and nervous that they were too scared to administer them (not sure why...); I had to go back a 2nd time.  So...what do I do? As an adult (okay, but can we really call 18 an adult? I was 18 and clearly not really grown-up...), I get two tattoos and a belly button piercing (which I no longer have, fortunately--so you can quit trying to conjure up that frightening image). That's what I do--I try to face things head-on, when possible.

Obviously, you know what I wanted for Anderson. I wanted him to have the same opportunity as the other children--to participate in the story telling and to experience the fun of a special day at school. I felt certain that, if I could just get him ON the bus, he would calm down and enjoy himself. So, I contacted both his teacher and the director of the preschool and asked when the next Story Bus visit was scheduled. I told them I planned to come, and I would be getting him on the bus.

Well, that day was this past Monday.  Anderson's class was set to visit the bus at 9:45 am.  All weekend long, I talked to him about Mommy coming to take him on the story bus. I made sure to bring it up again Sunday night--I like for there to be no surprises, when it comes to his expectations.  Monday, I got to his school at about 9:30.  Amelia's class was actually ON the bus at the time, so I went to Anderson's room to get him, so that we could look at the bus and get comfortable with it from the outside, and then watch Amelia and her friends get off the bus completely unharmed. Great plan, in theory, right?

 When I opened the door to his classroom, and he saw me...he started crying.  Break. My. Heart.  He knew exactly why I was there.  He walked over to me, and looked up at me. With a wavering little voice and big blue eyes full of tears, he said, "We're going to go get in the big car?" (which is our car...). I looked down at him and told him no, gently asked him why I was there, and of course he remembered. Oh, friends...it was so hard. He was just so scared.  I picked him up, covered his little head and cheeks with kisses, and told him we were going to go see the Story Bus. I carried him, crying, out the back door to the school where the bus was parked.

We stood there for a long time. He cried and perseverated on many questions and facts about the bus ("The bus doesn't move", "The bus won't hurt you", "We aren't going to get on the bus, no we aren't") over and over. I just kissed him, held him close, kept telling him that we were going to get on the bus but that Mommy was there, Mommy wouldn't let anything happen, that we would be okay.  Fortunately, shortly after we got there, the steps emerged and Amelia and her class disembarked.  Of course I was pointing out how happy the kids were--and just as if they were cued to do it, many of the little ones yelled out, "HI, ANDERSON!!". He stopped crying when he saw that they were happy. Amelia, on the other hand, was completely confused. She came over to me and looked at me like, "what are you doing here?" I told her she had to stay with her class and that I'd see her later, and she went off and got in her line.  They left us, just Anderson and I staring at the bus.

I walked towards it and he started crying again, clawing at me. The cute little driver and the story tellers were kind of staring at us, so I introduced ourselves to them. I said, "Hi, this is Anderson, and I'm his mom. Anderson has autism, and he's afraid of the bus. I'm going to put him on the bus."  That was the first time I've told strangers that Anderson has autism. It was...interesting.  I wasn't telling them to make excuses for why he was so upset, but to give them some background, and possibly help make his transition to the bus a bit easier. Fortunately, they were so very kind.  As we started up the steps, he held on tighter, cried louder.  However, as soon as we got on, he stopped. He looked all around, taking it in. The bus is adorable--they decorate it according to whatever their theme for the visit is--in this case, farm life.  I pointed out the pigs, cows, and other decorations, but he was still stuck in the terror. He was calm but kept saying that it was time to get off. I told him we were going to wait for Ms. Jennifer and Ms. Anna and his friends. The driver gave him some animal stickers. He was anxious but not crying, overwhelmed but not to a breaking point.

His teachers got on the bus first, and wow did they make a big deal out of him being on the bus. His little face lit up when he saw how proud they were of him.  That's when I knew we would make it after all, and that he would come out of this experience better than he went into it.  Now, I'm not pretending that it was all lollipops and unicorns after that. He was still scared that the bus was going to take off with us in it.  He had to sit in my lap for the first half of the experience, and he was not able to listen to the story tellers at all. His little classmates were so cute, talking about the animals, singing Old MacDonald...all the while Anderson is talking a mile a minute in my ear about the bus. He pointed out the windows. He talked about the doors. He reminded me that it wasn't going to move. Over and over.

After about 15 minutes, he asked if he could sit on the floor with his friends. He looked at the readers, stood up and danced with a lot of prompting from me, smiled at his friends and teachers. But all of a sudden, he looked straight at me, and said, with an enormous smile, "Did I get on the Story Bus?"  Ohh...that was worth a million dollars. He was SO. INCREDIBLY. PROUD. So happy that he was able to do it.  That self-confidence? That's what it's all about, friends. That's what I want for him, always. I want him to accomplish things that make him feel good, proud of himself. Strong. Successful.

I left shortly after they finished their story time. According to his teachers and the preschool director, he told every single adult that he passed in the hall about getting on the Story Bus. It was the first thing he told Marty when he picked the kids up that afternoon. 

He's still talking about it. I just hope that it transfers to the next Story Bus visit. But mostly, I'm just so damn happy.  Raising Anderson is infinitely rewarding, but also very tough. I second-guess all of my parenting decisions, and making the choice to force him on the bus wasn't easy. In fact, I was so wound up about it that I cried on the way back to work that day.  The emotions of the whole experience were just overwhelming--the low of watching him literally shake and cry with fear in my arms, and the high of seeing him so happy and fulfilled. This specific event had a good ending, but I'm not naive enough to think that everything will always end on such a positive note.  I just hope and pray that I continue to be brave enough and smart enough to make choices that help him become stronger, more capable in the long run. And that I'm not too hard on myself when I screw it up. Because at some point, I'm sure I will.

Finally brave enough to sit on the floor with his friends

I'm still a little scared, but I'm doing it!!


  1. Good job, mama! And way to go Anderson! That's so awesome that you're teaching him these life lessons and skills. There are still so many adults who don't try to overcome their fears.

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  3. I have a sensory kid and I know your pain, mama. I want the same things for my sweetie - to be able to play freely and adapt and thrive in the world. God it's so hard sometimes.