The Day My Teenager Learned Public Transportation
I finally got a call from the Chicago Public Schools district travel trainer to let me know that he was ready to begin teaching my teenage daughter how to take fixed-route public transportation. She is 16 years old and has a developmental disability, and I, along with many parents of transitioning teens with disabilities, have been told that being able to take the bus or the train is an important step in her road to independence when she enters adult life.
We had been anxiously waiting to get off of the wait list for travel training for more than six months, but when the day arrived to begin training, I began wondering if I had lost my mind. Was I going to let my teenage daughter, who is so innocent and so dependent upon me and others, learn how to take public transportation? In the City of Chicago? By herself? Was I crazy?
A lot of people might say yes. But I was reminded that this kind of one-on-one support offered by the school district is only available while she is still in school. While there is some one-to-one travel training for adults, it’s harder to get, the wait is much longer and by then, windows of learning have closed. I know that it is important to start building transportation skills now instead of waiting to build these skills in adulthood.
So, I held my breath and let her go.
I honestly assumed that after the first training session, the trainer would inform me that my daughter didn’t have the maturity, reasoning skills or motor planning ability to make the decisions involved in walking to the bus stop, crossing a major street and boarding and riding the CTA. Ironically, hearing that would have made things easier in a weird way. If they tell you she can’t, well, then decision made! Cross that off the independence list!
Boy, was I flummoxed and, admittedly, a little scared, when he told me how impressed he was with Anna’s skills after the first bus trip! There was no viable reason to stop the training.
So my daughter continued for several weeks, working with the trainer who supported her learning all along the way and gave her plenty of opportunity to try parts of the experience independently while he shadowed her. By the end, he and my daughter determined that she has more learning to do before she is ready to ride independently on the bus, but she has taken important initial steps toward independence by at least learning the home-to-school bus route with excellent support from the trainer. Eventually she may be able to do this on her own.
Others parents might question my decision to let her learn public transportation, and I will always worry about her safety – just as I do with all of my children. However, I am taking a leap of faith that she has the tools to grow to reach her full potential. And I am putting faith in the trainer – that he is teaching her the myriad of skills needed to accomplish this task. And I am putting faith in my neighborhood and the school community- that they will support Anna if necessary on her journey to independence, even if it is only a total of 2 bus stops!