Listening is Learning

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First Student’s special needs and operational safety manager brings needed education to contractor’s employees

Dona Beauchea knows more than a few things about serving the special needs community. After more than 30 years of working in special needs pupil transportation, she knows that special needs drivers and aides need an uncommon ability to keep their cool.

“[The special needs students] are out of control because they don’t know how to deal with the emotions they’re experiencing. If you lose your control, then it becomes a circle of conflict,” she says.

With a growing special needs population, increasingly demanding IEP requirements and a tendency to place special needs students onto the same routes as their peers, she also knows that more pupil transporters need special needs training than ever before. As First Student’s new special needs operational safety manager, she’ll be helping to provide this.

Last fall, Beauchea wrote a new course for First Student drivers and attendants on understanding autism. The course taught about the different types of autism, their characteristics and what behavior strategies work day-to-day. For example, drivers and attendants need to know that children with autism may react negatively to change so they can stress routine and structure, she said.

Today, one in 150 students are being diagnosed with autism. According to Beauchea, this “astronomical” figure means all drivers will eventually need some training to deal with students with disabilities.

In her new position with First Student, she says she’ll educate the contractor’s employees on traditional themes, including evacuations and sensitivity. But she also hopes to stress the importance of communication and working with the rest of the special needs community. She said this is something she picked up in three decade of pupil transportation, including working for a small contractor, a district and now the largest contractor in the nation.

“If that relationship is not developed, then we don’t as an industry help that child as best we need to.”

Reprinted from the February 2009 issue of School Transportation News magazine. All rights reserved.