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Preschooler With Autism Left Alone in Hot School Bus

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Kate Tuttle: This is one of those stories that makes you go "Whew!" -- and then get angry.

Bus and boy
Three-year-old Justin Styer, who has autism, fell asleep on the way home from preschool earlier this week. His parents waited for the bus that brings him home, but it never showed up. After a call to the school and an hour's wait, they got word: Justin was asleep in a locked school bus, the windows closed, on a hot summer day.

After a quick trip to the ER, Justin is doing fine -- though doctors have told his parents to keep him inside and well-hydrated for a few days, just to be safe. But his parents are understandably upset that this happened in the first place. The school says they'll investigate and keep in close contact with the parents.

I can't imagine their relief, and at the same time can only begin to guess how much fury is mixed in. Every summer, public service announcements remind us not to leave our kids in cars, citing the deadly danger they face there. And yet, every year we hear stories like this one, in which schools and bus companies slip up and put kids in harm's way. A child in Michigan had to jump out of a school bus window earlier this month after being left behind. According to the National Association of Pupil Transportation, up to 75 kids each year are left behind on school buses nationwide. 

When it happens to children with autism or other special needs, we have to ask ourselves: Who's looking out for our kids?

next: VIDEO: Jessi Slaughter Speaks Out on 'GMA'
39 comments so far | Post a comment now
Matt July 22, 2010, 11:07 AM

It is not their job to take care o your kids. If the parents were home waiting for the but, they clearly have ample time to pick the child up from school and if they didn’t need their “alone time” then this wouldn’t have happened. Parents: STOP THINKING YOUR KIDS ARE OTHERS RESPONSIBILITY, THEY’RE NOT.

Jenny July 22, 2010, 12:20 PM

Matt are you kidding me????

It is the bus drivers job to go through the bus to check and make sure 1) that there is no items left behind and 2) that there are no CHILDREN on the bus. They are RESPONSIBLE for getting the kids from point A to point B. THAT IS THEIR JOB. If they can’t do that then they shouldn’t be driving a bus.

These kids ride the bus because it can be a form of therapy to help with autism. My son went to a preschool for kids with challenges (he was a peer model) and a lot of kids rode buses because it was what they wanted and what was good for them for socialization. The bus driver knows who gets on the bus and it is usually checked off on a list (especially for these preschoolers). So there is no reason other than laziness on the part of this driver, who was clearly not doing her/his job.

Yes the parents could drop off/pick up their child but maybe they are following the child psychologists advice. Did you think about that?

Just because it is summer doesn’t mean you skip doing the bus checks so you can get off work sooner.

Anonymous July 22, 2010, 12:46 PM

Agrees with Jenny

Anonymous July 22, 2010, 12:52 PM

Matt,Obviously you have no children nor have you had contact with children with special needs,the bus is a form of therapy and yes it is the bus drivers fault,When I get out of my car ,every time,I make sure I have no stowaways,because it only takes one mistake for a tragedy the bus driver should be checking the bus and under the seats before they leave for the day ,I actually thought that was required

Alison July 22, 2010, 2:43 PM

I can’t imagine how upset these parents must be! My 5 year old is autistic and when he was in preschool rode a bus to and from a therapeutic program. The bus was optional but was encouraged due to his social delays and the severe anxiety he had when I dropped him off in person. I am very surprised that there was not an assistant on the bus in this story. None of the kids on the bus he was on could even board the bus alone and some needed to be watched closely due to their specific needs.

Also, to Matt, it is highly unlikely these parents were having “alone time”. They were probably rushing home from work to meet the bus, taking care of other children, or running errands that can be incredibly difficult with an autistic preschooler.

Tammy July 23, 2010, 5:26 AM

I just wrote about this on my blog. It’s horrible and can be prevented. And Matt, you are so wrong. It’s obvious that you are not a parent and should have kept your two cents to yourself.

Liz July 23, 2010, 10:54 AM

Matt is 100% right in this case. If the parents were HOME why the heck weren’t they picking up their child themselves from school?! And THREE hours? Hello - as soon as my child’s bus isn’t at the stop I’m making calls!!

Sandie July 24, 2010, 9:00 PM

Matt and liz, both of you are way off base! I lived a mike from my sons school, but I allowed him to ride the bus because he wanted to and It was recommeded. I was running late from work oneday and missed the bus only by minutes. He was taken back to the school and turned over to administrators who understood. However, the bus driver did not just leave him on the bus. There could have been many reasons why the boy was on the bus and not a car rider. You should not judge these parents since they were WAITING on the bus. They weren’t out parting or laying up in the bed and missed the bus. the BUS DRIVER failed at his job!!

Anonymous July 26, 2010, 6:00 AM

“they weren’t out partying…”

Actually you don’t know that. They probably were just laying in bed. The article states they were BOTH HOME - NOT at work. SO they were be lazy and blaming someone else for not doing their job.

Emm July 27, 2010, 8:13 AM

Riding the bus is a big nightmare and not very responsible for parents to let their kids do. I can’t even tell you how many friends I know whose kids have been sexually assaulted on the bus ( a lot), or harassed nonstop for months to the point they wanted to kill themselves. Socialization? I think not.

Diane July 27, 2010, 8:17 AM

Agree with Emm. I am a psychologist and my kids do not ride the bus. Too many out of control problems on the bus. One little girl who I am seeing (age 8) has had boys stick their hand down her pants three times (sexual assault), and they do it so quickly before the bus driver sees, that the school can’t do anything. Very sad.

There are plenty of healthy social experiences for them to have, and this is not one of them.

KFT July 27, 2010, 11:01 AM

People are sure quick to condemn these parents without knowing the facts. Maybe they’d just gotten home for work? Maybe they don’t have a CAR to drive the kid to school or pick him up?? Without a doubt, it is the fault of the bus driver—they are supposed to check that the bus is empty before they leave it. And if this boy had autism, there should have been an aide on the bus to help.

k July 31, 2010, 5:20 PM

Matt and Liz, where the heck are you getting this? It wasn’t 3 hours, they waited half an hour past when he should have been home (traffic and delays happen, come on), then called the school. It took the school one hour to find him. Now, I would have sent one parent TO the school to help look, while the other stayed in case the bus showed up, rather than waiting the hour. But giving the bus a little time to show up being neglect? No. And we don’t know why he rides the bus to begin with, but once kids (especially with special needs) have a routine it’s good to stick with it… maybe it was a fluke that both parents were home, and usually either one car-less one would or… well, we don’t know.

justawoman August 5, 2010, 3:12 PM

Also, sometimes the special schools are many miles away, and that’s another factor of the children take the bus. The schools actually REQUEST that the parents NOT drive the kids to school so there won’t be so many cars backed up in front of the school in the morning, which can be a safety issue.

And about the parent needing alone time? Heck YEAH. You take care of a low-functioning autistic kid 24/7 who you can’t trust to a babysitter (because the kid is aggressive or has other difficult behaviors) and YES, you will need your alone time. Believe me.

stephanie September 1, 2010, 1:39 PM

Maybe these parents have work at home jobs? Or better yet how about laid off? Since so many now days are. Why do you guys just assume they are being lazy or partying? Maybe it was thier day off? Alot of people try to coordinate thier days off to have time together. Parenting a special needs child is very nervewracking and stress filled.
It was out and out neglect by the bus driver who did NOT make sure his/her bus was empty and his/her responsability that all the children entrusted to him/her were delivered home safely.

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