Another day, another story about a child left off the bus alone, who has Autism. Click here to read story. We’ve all seen the news: Child left on kindergarten bus as driver locks up for the day and other scary headlines. Not all of these children have developmental disabilities, but they are vulnerable and we count on our professionals to take and bring home our children to and from school without incident. In the case of this young man, he has severe Autism. He got off the school bus and no one was home. His mother wasn’t able to meet the bus on time. It happens. She is not neglectful. Sometimes a car won’t start or a traffic accident puts us in a backup. There is nothing like the terror of knowing you won’t be home when your child’s bus is coming. I’ve been “lucky” and it’s only happened to me one time when my son was young (about ten years old). I had an electrical short in my car and it wouldn’t start and I was ten minutes late (a very long ten minutes!). Fortunately, my son is of a higher functioning and he knew to go to my elderly neighbor’s house. When I got home, he was on the porch eating popcorn with her and having a chat. However, there was a time when they dropped my son off at the wrong bus stop, a quarter mile from home. He was seven. As a student with Autism, he is not allowed to be dropped off without my presence. Now, that he’s older (seventeen), he has a note on file that allows him to get off the bus alone and come in to the home by himself. Back then, it was terrifying. The bus pulls up, the doors open, all the kids are off and you ask, “Where is my son?” Panic is instant. The bus driver is a substitute and can’t be sure of who your child is. You make frantic calls to the school, you’re running back to your house, you just can’t get to your car fast enough. Do I stay here in case he shows up? Do I drive around to find him? The school hasn’t called back. The bus has taken off. You’re so angry at the women behind the wheel of that bus. Finally, two fellow students come running down the street yelling my name. “He’s with us! He got off the bus with us and we knew where he lived”. Gratitude. Relief. Breathe.
In this story however, the young man has severe Autism. He doesn’t see anyone and just starts walking across the town to his grandparent’s house. He has no fear…of anything. Not of traffic, getting hit, getting lost, awareness of the situation. He just knows he needs to get to his grandparents. It’s automatic thinking for him. Schools want to keep children with disabilities in their home schools, educated amongst their non-disabled peers. I think it’s a beautiful and wonderful concept. It gives kids a chance to have a typical school experience. However, there is not adequate training and funding to follow through with the supposed good intentions these schools are trying to convey. Children who need one-to-one aides to get through the day are being told there is no funding or the program has been removed. Bus drivers are not trained in how to ensure child safety when it comes to children with severe disabilities. There are protocols in place to get these students back to school in an emergency like that.
Our society has taken a very sudden turn in removing all children (and adults but that’s a story for another time!) from institutions (good thing) and mainstreaming them all into schools and centers for them to remain in their homes (wonderful thing!). However, if we do not put funding in place, we have a whole generation of children who are getting uneven services and are being left behind, something the government promotes, but if you have a child with disabilities, this is not always happening.
You can google stories all day long about children with Autism and the major issues that have come up. This is just one story that stood out to me today. Each of us as parents are just one person, doing what we can to ensure our children grow up with the best education and safe environment we can possibly give them. Our schools are failing many.