Monday, September 7, 2009

Autistic boy to get apology from Halifax public transit

David Croft demanded a public apology from Metro Transit with how they dealt with an incident involving their eight-year-old autistic son Izaak.

By The Canadian Press

HALIFAX, N.S. — The public transit authority in Halifax will issue a formal apology to an autistic boy after his family complained about a city bus driver who refused to continue driving unless the eight-year-old stopped screaming, his mother says.

But it was unclear Friday night if an apology will actually occur.

Charlene Croft said Metro Transit agreed this week to draft a written apology for her son Izaak after she and her husband David met with two transit officials.

“All parties agreed that the situation was handled poorly,” Charlene Croft said in a blog entry posted Thursday. “It will be an apology for the mere fact that this happened in the first place and that it spiralled out of control in the way that it did.”

The blog says Metro Transit has also agreed to apologize to Izaak’s day camp director and to produce tip sheets for bus drivers and passengers on how to deal with autistic behaviour.

Lori Patterson, a Metro Transit spokesperson, said Friday that transit officials did meet with the family but she didn’t refer to what the company will do as an apology.

“The meeting gave a chance for both parties to give an airing of the incident from their perspective and it went very well,” she said. “Both sides appeared to be satisfied at the conclusion of the meeting.”

Patterson acknowledged that the family asked for an apology but Metro Transit agreed to send the child a letter “acknowledging that any incident like this is unfortunate.”

She said Metro Transit still stands behind the driver’s account of what happened “but we agreed to the meeting because the parents obviously weren’t there” when it occurred.

David Croft has said his son, who he described as classically autistic with no ability to speak, was on a field trip with about two dozen autistic children and their counsellors last week when the group boarded a bus in downtown Halifax.

He said Izaak is sometimes over-stimulated by loud noises, certain smells and large groups of people.

“He doesn’t have language, so when he’s expressing frustration, it tends to come out as screams,” David Croft said in an earlier interview.

During the first five minutes of the bus ride, counsellors did their best to calm Izaak as he screamed, but David Croft said the driver complained that the piercing noise was making it difficult for him to drive.

Izaak left the bus with his counsellor and the camp’s director. The other children and counsellors stepped off a few stops later.

Metro Transit has said images and audio recorded by a surveillance camera show the driver did not ask the boy to leave the bus. Transit service officials have insisted the driver was simply doing his best to ensure passenger safety.

Charlene Croft said Metro Transit has declined to show the couple the surveillance tape.

She said the meeting Thursday was “productive and positive,” but there was disagreement over Metro Transit’s claim that passenger safety was compromised by Izaak’s disruptive behaviour.

“Developmentally, Izaak’s behaviour, social cognition and impulse control is closer to that of a toddler, rather than an almost nine-year-old child,” she said.

“Therefore … it was like asking someone with an inconsolable baby/toddler to leave the bus.”

In his own blog, David Croft challenged Metro Transit’s assertion that its driver did not specifically ask Izaak to leave the bus.

“Personally … I thought this was a semantic point because the driver had created a situation where there was little choice — due to authoritative and social pressure — but to remove Izaak from the bus,” he wrote.

“So the driver hadn’t explicitly used the words, ‘off the bus.’ (But) there are a thousand and one ways to say a thing without actually having to say it.”

Still, David Croft said the meeting left him convinced the transit authority was willing to make constructive changes to better serve those with neurological disorders.

“Although it was a sometimes emotional meeting — Charlene cried once or twice and my voice raised as I had a renewed, but brief, fury at the notion that Izaak had been on the bus for just 3.5 to five minutes total before the driver could take no more — it was also a highly productive meeting,” he wrote.

The transit service has also committed to reach out to the region’s autism community to let parents know about the Access-A-Bus program, a service that uses specially equipped buses to provide rides to the disabled.

Charlene Croft said she had been told earlier that Izaak was not eligible for the service.

However, she stressed that access to the service would not have prevented last week’s incident because Izaak was with a day camp group that regularly uses city buses to get around town.

“Parents of autistic children and autistic adults do require more resources than most, and that always puts the status quo on edge,” she said in her blog.

“But one resource that parents of autistic children need the most of all doesn’t even require tangible capital a Community acceptance and tolerance can go a very long way.”

Autism, which is also known as autism spectrum disorder, is a neurological disorder that results in unusual patterns of behaviour, difficulties with communication and social interaction.

The Autism Society of Canada says the complex disorder affects at least one in every 200 Canadian children and the number of reported cases has risen by 150 per cent in the past six years.

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