By Cheryl Bane, Parent
Last month I got a call telling me that my 20-year-old daughter, Quincy, was going to begin Chicago Public Schools’ (CPS) Travel Training Program. Gulp. The thought of Quincy taking the city bus completely on her own made me nervous because Quincy had never ridden the bus alone and she has Down syndrome. Like most parents with a child with a disability, I am reluctant to let her travel around town on her own. I worry about her more than I do her typically-developing brother.
Will she be O.K. crossing busy streets?
Will she get lost?
What if someone steals her phone?
However, I reassured myself that someone will show her how to use the system and that she’ll learn what she needs to know.
After all, where else in life—so far—does Quincy have the opportunity to make mistakes? Or problem solve when things don’t go as expected? Especially without a parent, teacher, or someone else jumping in to solve the problem?
On the first day, Kyle, Quincy’s CPS Travel Trainer, began by having her download a Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) app onto her phone. He showed her how to map out a route to get to where she needed to go – in this case to and from school – and to see when the next bus or train was expected to arrive at her stop.
Then Kyle and Quincy began taking the bus together from school to home, and then from home to school. Kyle coached her on:
- How to navigate busy intersections;
- How to recognize the bus she needs;
- What sorts of conversations with strangers are appropriate and inappropriate;
- The importance to paying attention to what’s going on around her, and
- Even how to handle her phone appropriately while on the bus.
Kyle always hopes that things go wrong during training so there are opportunities to work on problem solving. Sure enough, one morning the sign on the bus wasn’t working and it wasn’t apparent what route that bus was taking. Instead of telling Quincy what to do, Kyle simply asked, “We don’t know if this is the right bus. What are we going to do?” Quincy answered “I’ll ask the bus driver.” Good answer.
Another day Quincy pulled the cord too late and missed her stop. With Kyle’s support, she learned to navigate her way on foot. When the bus was packed, Quincy asked if she could have a seat. Each week she demonstrated more self-advocacy and problem solving skills!
Because of her success, it was time for “shadowing.” Quincy would make the trip to school totally on her own, but Kyle would follow her in his car. Knowing Quincy’s newfound independence was making me nervous; Kyle sent reassuring texts along the way:
“She’s walking to the bus stop now.”
“She’s getting on the bus now.”
“She’s arrived at school.”
Whew, made it.
Eventually, Kyle informed me that Quincy was capable of getting to school independently. Quincy was so excited! I, on the other hand, was more apprehensive. All the “what-ifs” parents are often plagued by were running through my head. But there was no way I was going to let this valuable training go to waste.
So, the next morning Quincy was off to school all by herself. I started getting on my coat so I could walk her to the bus stop and Quincy stopped me:
“Don’t embarrass me, Mom.”
OK, then. I reluctantly, but proudly watched her as she left the house.
Yes, she got to school and home fine that first day and every day since. Quincy loves the independence that riding the bus gives her. She insists on taking it every single day to and from school. With each bus trip, she continues to learn and build important life skills that will help her be as independent as possible for the rest of her life.
It was a good lesson for me too. For the rest of my life, I will need to remind myself that I have to take a step back and let Quincy figure things out for herself.