We trust our school busses to take our children to school safely, and drop them back off safely as well. How in the world could a child could be left alone on a bus without the driver realizing it? How does this happen?
For children with autism, especially those who are nonverbal, it seems like it’s happening more frequently.
For a mom in Lapeer, Michigan, she spent an excruciating hour and a half searching for her daughter and wondering if she was safe after she didn’t get dropped off like she should have been.
Sarah Fox walks her five-year-old daughter, Charlie, down to the bus stop every morning. Charlie has nonverbal autism but can usually provide basic, yes-or-no answers.
One morning, Fox walked Charlie to the bus stop per usual, but a little while later, she got a phone call saying that Charlie hadn’t actually made it to therapy (where the bus was taking her).
“What do you mean she’s not there? Are you sure she’s not there?” Fox had said on the phone.
Charlie wears a belt with a GPS built in, but when Fox checked it, the battery was dead. Next, Fox called the Lapeer Community bus garage. They informed her that they had dropped Charlie off and left her with the same person as the day before — which was Fox herself.
Fox knew that couldn’t be right, and had her daughter double check the house to make sure Charlie wasn’t actually there.
She was not.
Fox frantically enlisted the help of the police as well as family and friends, and began searching for Charlie in earnest.
Finally, Fox got a phone call saying that Charlie had been found safe and sound — at the bus garage, still on bus 79. She was all alone, quietly waiting.
“She couldn’t have asked for help. She couldn’t have screamed. She just sat there and waited, wondering why she was buckled in, why no one was there,” Fox said.
While Lapeer schools have apologized to the Fox family, it has not been possible for the family to just accept that and move on. Though Charlie was found safe, those 90 minutes of isolation and confusion have affected her deeply and set her back, according to her mother. Charlie gets more easily frustrated now and has been engaging in self-injurious behavior more frequently. She will hit herself and bang her head, which leave bruises on her.
As of this writing, the incident is under investigation.
This was a traumatic situation for the Fox family, and we hope that little Charlie is able to mentally and emotionally heal from the incident, and that the investigation is thorough and fair.
Learn more in this video.
C. Dixon likes to read, sing, eat, drink, write, and other verbs. She enjoys cavorting around the country to visit loved ones and experience new places, but especially likes to be at home with her husband, son, and dog.