The public transport system in many developed countries brings about loads of convenience for its people. However, taking public transport can be a daunting and stressful task especially for those on the spectrum. Preparing and carrying out a successful journey requires a complex series of steps. This is not an easy feat for individuals with autism who are extremely sensitive to light, sound, and smells. Not only that, they often have difficulty adapting to spontaneous events, like waiting for a longer duration for a bus that is overdue. This can lead people with autism to avoid public transport and may greatly deter them from travelling away from home.
However, there is always light at the end of the tunnel. Individuals with autism do not necessarily have to be victims of their condition. This article will discuss several strategies parents and caregivers could adopt to teach individuals with autism how to take public transport while keeping their stress levels to a minimum.
Using visual aid
Since taking public transport requires a series of steps and an ability to deal with unexpected events, visual aids can help individuals with autism. Visual aids can help by reminding them of the steps to take when using public transport or when unexpected events occur. These visual aids can be in words or pictures which detail every step needed to use the public transport, and what to do when the train/bus is late. These visual aids can also include teaching how to offer their seat to those in need (pregnant women, elderly, or other injured passengers), and coping strategies if their favourite seat or driver is not there. Other information like planning alternative routes, and instructions on how to check transport timetables can also be included.
Points you can include in the visual chart:
Check bus/train schedule
Walk to bus stop/ train station
Get on the bus/ train
Pay the fare by tapping the transport card
Find an empty seat and sit down
If there are no seats, stand somewhere with a hand grip
Look out for your stop
Ring the bell
Get off the bus/ train
Tap your transport card before getting off
Using such visual aids can greatly reduce the stress of individuals with autism. They no longer have to worry about forgetting what to do midway, and these cues can serve as a reminder of previously learnt coping strategies when they feel anxious during their journey.
Blocking out noise
As individuals with autism are often extremely sensitive to noise, wearing noise-cancelling headphones to reduce background noise, or playing soothing music through them can greatly calm them down in a noisy environment. In addition, wearing headphones is also a socially acceptable way of signalling that they prefer not to engage in a conversation for those who have anxiety around social interaction.
Carrying a familiar object
Taking public transport alone can be an overwhelming task for those with autism due to their sensory processing issues. Hence, it will be good if these individuals with autism can carry around a familiar object with a familiar smell or feel to help comfort them; this can be a phone, toy, or even a piece of fabric. For example, favourite smells on a handkerchief can help avoid unpleasant smells on public transports, while comforting and reducing stress from sensory overload.
Taking public transport can be made easy for individuals with ASD by using a visual aid to prepare them for their journey, finding ways to reduce background noise, and carrying a familiar object. Although teaching individuals with ASD to take public transport can be a challenging hurdle to overcome initially, but with the right preparations and support, they can also enjoy modern-day conveniences like most of us.
Autism-friendly transport practices - Altogether Autism. (2017). Retrieved 21 August 2021, from https://www.altogetherautism.org.nz/autism-friendly-transport-practices/