It’s dusk and I’m taking Jemma for a walk in our neighbourhod. As always, I’m lost in deep thoughts (wondering what I’m going to make for dinner). Then I notice a young man carrying a lunch box stop in front of me on the sidewalk. He steps awkwardly aside onto the grass to let me pass. Then he says something to me.
Something. I’m not sure what. His speech is unclear. I ask him to repeat it. He does. I have to ask him to repeat it a few more times. Finally, I figure out he’s saying a street address. And I know he has special needs.
“Are you lost?” I ask.
Luckily, I know where the street is. “Come on. I’ll take you there,” I tell him. “My dog needs a good walk anyways.”
“Did you just get off the bus?” I ask.
“Are you visiting a friend?” I ask.
“No. My home,” he says. “My sister. Beauty parlour.”
“Your sister has a beauty parlour in her house?”
“And you live with her?”
Another nod. When we find the street, he recognizes his house, smiles, waves and thanks me. He walks ahead and I watch to see that he gets inside.
All this makes me think about our kids making their way in the world. Some of Talia’s friends with special needs are starting to take public transit by themselves. Just recently, one friend told Tal that she had been bullied on the bus. So Talia and I talked about what she should do if she was in that situation. Scary stuff.
When Talia was younger (starting around age 10), she walked to school and back by herself. It was doable, since school is only 10 minutes away, there are tons of kids walking by, and a crossing guard assists at the traffic lights. But now that Tal’s in high school, she’s picked up by a bus at our house. So that opportunity for independence is gone.
Since we live in the burbs, any local store is about a 25 minute walk away on busy streets. When Talia goes out, we usually drive her. But we know it’s time to let her venture out on her own — by foot and by bus. On school outings, Talia’s class often travels on transit together. And last week, Jack and Tal went downtown together by bus. It’s a start. Since Talia will likely never drive, it’s crucial that she learns to safely get around town by transit.
I only hope that if my daughter gets lost or frightened, some kind soul will come to her aid. Like the young man I met while walking in our neighbourhood, our kids are vulnerable. But with a little help, they can find their way.
Do your kids with special needs walk or bus anywhere on their own? Any tips to help keep them safe? Carry a cell phone? Emergency identity card? Other ideas?
Photo by Hector de Pereda via Flickr