First “Kid-Dropped-Off-At-Wrong-Bus-Stop” Story of the School Year

Hey Readers! Here’s a lovely little bite of sanity, deceny and normal-ness (before I bring you today’s run-in-with-the-cops story that’s driving me to despair). Over at Lisa Belkin’s blog on The Huffington Post, she reports that a 5-year-old with autism was let off at the wrong stop, thanks to a little mix-up.

Rather than this making front page news — remember this story? “Parents Worst Nightmare!” — it was resolved the usual way: With kindness and concern. Two teens found the boy, brought him to an adult who got in touch with  his mom, who came and got him. As Belkin asks:

So what is the lesson we take from this first-day-of-school tale (in addition to the obvious changes needed in the school’s bus procedure)?

Is it that the world is not a safe place for children?

Or that a little boy who needed help got it?

“I called her and told her, ‘I have your son. He’s safe. He’s at my house and I’ll keep him safe until you arrive,'” his rescuer says she told his mom.

Isn’t that the lesson — that the world is basically safe, and that people are generally good — the one that we most need to learn?

It sure is! Right on, Lisa! — L.

Getting off at the wrong spot is not the same as getting off at Armageddon.

31 Responses

  1. Now that’s the way it should be.🙂

  2. I love it when common sense and common decency prevail! Thanks for the early morning lift.

  3. That gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling. It’s about time people stopped freaking out and used some common sense.

  4. You read the replies and there are several saying “this kid got lucky.” NO! He didn’t get lucky. He was treated as he would have been 99.9% of the time in a similar situation.

    Luck had little to do with it. He was a person in need who was helped by his community. In fact, people helping each other happens so often every day that it isn’t even news. It’s just part of life.

    What he didn’t get was “unlucky,” as in a statistical abnormality greater than being struck by lightning, in which case he might have been abducted. Or unlucky and harmed by sadistic kids or something.

  5. How nice of those teens and the lady! This is the kind of back to school story I like to hear, one that promotes a sense of community spirit!

  6. Children mostly become victims of their circumstances when adults go coo-coo and make them feel that way. Otherwise, for the most part, to them it is an adventure until they see the adults freak out over it. Sure, it may have been a scary adventure at the time, but they will generally learn something from it and walk away unscathed. I think it is so stupid when parents get involved and make it out that the kid was a victim of 1) the school system, 2) the bus driver, 3) society, 4)fill in the blank. That does nothing to help the child learn a thing other than to blame other people and set themselves up for a lifetime of being a victim.

  7. WOW! No police involvement and nobody arrested. No background check ran on the teens or the woman who called the mother. Where is the out cry for the bus driver’s head? Somebody has to pay.

    Of course I’m being cynical.

  8. I’m actually really worried about this. For the first time one of my kids will be riding a bus this fall, and he’s a 3 year old with a profound speech delay. I know that most people are wonderful, and we are very free range. I let him go to the bathroom by himself in restaurants. He has free range on the sidewalk up and down the entire block (well out of my sight) and knows to not cross the street. I just am terrified that the bus will let him off at the wrong place and no one will understand a word he says. I’m not worried about stranger abductions, I’m worried about well-meaning adults being unable to help!

  9. Rebecca, the first time we went to Disney with my autistic daughter (who was fairly non-verbal at the time – Now, I wish for quiet) I went to the pet store and had a little heart shaped tag made up. It said Maggie, Daddy’s cell and had my husband’s cell number on it. We strung it on a leather string, added some beads to make it look cool and she wore it the whole time we were traveling. We told her if she got lost, to show it to someone. Perhaps you can do attach something similar to his backpack and explain to him to show it to someone if he winds up someplace he shouldn’t?

  10. Rebecca, could you make a tag to attach to his coat with his name and your phone number, and a brief comment re: his speech issues? Teach him that if something goes awry to show the tag to an adult. If he’s trustworthy to roam the length of the block he should be able to handle that.

  11. The only thing about this story that bothers me is the bus procedure… of all the children who need to be taken better care of, its the autistic one that gets let off at the wrong spot by the bus driver. Hopefully, it isn’t a mistake that will happen again. With some autistic children taken out of their comfort zone (such as not getting off of a bus at the right place) this could have induced some horrible amount of anxiety that I doubt even the well meaning teens who helped him could have handled.

    It was wonderful of these good kids… and most are good too; that helped him out. I would love to know more about the circumstances myself but just glad that everything turned out alright.

  12. Rebecca, I understand your worries. Perhaps you could make an ID card for him. Laminate it and attach it to a keychain that you hook onto his belt loop or have him wear it on a lanyard around his neck.

  13. Rebecca, I can imagine your situation is scary whether or not you have good “reasons” not to worry. But consider this: well-meaning adults who are unable to help are going to call the police. They’re not just going to stand there wringing their hands for hours and hours. Okay, maybe some would, but eventually someone’s going to come along with the obvious approach. So if you miss him, let the right people know you’ve missed him, and you’ll be connected, probably in pretty short order.

    Knowing that wouldn’t completely stop me from worrying, either, but know that there is a rational path from your child being lost and unable to communicate, to safely getting him back.

    Brian, excellent. You’re not “lucky” not to have something rare and horrible happen to you that depends upon coming across the few people who might do it; you’re “unlucky” if it does.

    The only question remaining is whether the local newspaper that ran this story felt the need to inform its readers that the child was “unhurt.” Because getting off at the wrong bus stop is like being in car crash, or a fire, or falling down the steps.

  14. Rebecca, when I was in kindergarten at a small town elementary school in the early ’70’s, I remember that those of us who walked to and from school (which was MANY of us) would have our addresses and phone numbers pinned to our shirts or jackets for the first couple of weeks so that in case we got lost, anyone in the neighborhood could help us get home. I don’t know if anyone needed it (I didn’t) but it was a clever idea.

    Since your son is only 3, maybe you could have your son’s teacher pin a paper with your cell phone number on it. It could be as simple and anonymous as “my mom’s cell phone number is ——-. Please call her if I need help.”

  15. Rebecca,
    I very seldom recomend a company or products. Vistaprint, is an online printing company with many wonderful and cheap products. I use them for my company business cards, pens, sticky notes and so on. Make up you kid some business cards. Cool and informative. Just a thought.

  16. If the kid can’t say his parent’s name and phone number – the kid can show that information. No shame in that. If I am in a country where I don’t speak the language and locals generally aren’t known for speaking one of the languages I do speak, I always carry a piece of paper with the name/address/phone of wherever I am staying or going. Helped me more than once, and I am way older than three.

    And yes, most people are very, very nice and helpful.

    So many times total strangers went of their way to help me, and I wasn’t even a kid by then! Would you let three disheveled strangers (we were on a hiking trip), one man and two women, both women speaking with foreign accents, into your car in the middle of a large, forested national park? Would you then drive them 30 miles around to their car? And then refuse any attempts to compensate you for gas? When I slipped into heat exhaustion, that’s what a family of strangers (With a 11 or 12 year old kid in tow) did for me and my two friends. I begged them to take us to the nearest town, ten miles away, where we could hire a taxi. Instead, they took us all the way to my car. We could have been murderers on the run, after all, not three doctorate-holding professionals… Strangely, a few months earlier I have given a ride to a total stranger in a shaky part of town, too, just out of compassion… I guess, what goes around, comes around. LIttle acts of kindness included.

  17. I have a 23 year old son with autism. He is verbal, but his cognitive dealys range from 10-15 years. We decided to be Free-Range before the term existed. At age 6, he and his 8 year old sister took a one hour airplane ride alone. He walks on average 2-4 miles a day to go a fast food restaurant for his afternoon snack, and on weekends he spends 3-4 hours walking to the mall, Target, Best Buy, etc. He used to have a larger range of 6 to 10 miles before he experienced some cogntive set backs. When he made the transition from elementary to middle school, he had a similar event occur to him with the bus. He, of course, had been riding a bus to and from school from the time he was 3. Of all the issues facing him as he started middle school, riding the bus was not even on my radar. However, no adult, even when he asked, directed him to the right bus as the first day of school let out. He did panic, but our free-range guidance kicked in and he began walking home. He had never walked this way before, but because he always pays attention to where we go and its proximity to our house (I know this is a peculiar focus of his disability), he was able to get half way before a man, who lives down the street from us and was picking up his own son, stopped and convinced him to get into his car and he brought him home. When he emerged from the car, he face was filthy dirty and streaked from his tears. I will never forget the fear in his eyes, but we did not follow up with how scared he must have been. We focused on the right things he did. Even taking a ride from someone he knew was ok. We realize that the possibility that someone else could have convinced him to get into a car and that he may have been harmed; however, we would never let him have a life if we lived in fear that someone might take advantage of him. The training we engaged in to help him navigate his world paid off and continues to pay off. Autism is not a reason to avoid helping a child to be as independent as he/she can be. Many people with autism cannot tolerate the level of independence my son enjoys, and there are many who enjoy greater independence. I make a conscience choice every day to trust that I have taught my son well and that others will treat him with respect and care.

  18. The thing is – when we ‘teach’ our kids that they are incompetent (by not letting them go to the bathroom by themselves, or play outside by themselves, etc) when they are in a position to be helpful to others (like in this story) they may not think they can help – or they may think all ‘strangers’ are evil and not help or whatever. So when parents are so hovering in the fist place – they don’t teach their kids the skills they need to help others, and we are all quite worse off.

  19. These days I wouldn’t recommend pinning anything on a child’s clothing, nor would I put something on a lanyard around a child’s neck. With the “zero tolerance” policies and lack of common sense, a child could get into a lot of trouble with a pin and you just know that somebody is going to claim that the lanyard could be a choking hazard. Most areas have a military surplus shop, where you can usually find what is called a “dog tag”. These come in plastic as well as metal and work very nice as a zipper pull on a jacket or a coat. They can also be threaded through the laces on a shoe in warm weather.

  20. You could try one of these:
    http://www.roadid.com/Common/default.aspx?referrer=4252&gclid=CKbs76qf27ECFQJN4AodohQAhg These are tags for long-distance runners, just in case they are injured (hit by car, heart attack, etc.) and can’t speak for themselves.

    I would share your worry under this situation, but I’m sure that you can find a work-around to reduce your anxiety.

    And, the original story? I love it when common sense prevails.

  21. Jim Collins, I guess you missed the whole discussion we had here on zipper pulls a while back. Really, it’s a world gone mad.

  22. Oops, my mistake, it wasn’t zipper pulls. This is what I had in mind:

    https://freerangekids.wordpress.com/2012/03/13/saved-from-a-fate-worse-than-buttons/

    Just wait, though, one of these days it will be zipper pulls.

  23. For the first few weeks of kindergarten, we were required to wear a construction paper circle pinned to our jackets with our name, bus number and stop number on it. The teachers would line us all up next to the right buses, and the driver checked the tags at each stop to determine who needed to get off there. This was 30 (!) years ago. Seemed like a good system!

  24. Every time I read these stories, I continue to feel blessed living in my free range neighborhood. Last summer a seven year old autistic boy ran off, and the sun was already down. When I got into my car, two moms came to me asking me if I had seen the boy. I told them I did not see him, so my husband and I volunteered to look for him. The cops were called, and everyone in the neighborhood was really helpful. One thing I noticed was no one was making comments such as, ‘where was the mom? why can’t she keep track of her kids? He might be kidnapped, etc.’ Someone found him before the cops (it takes forever before the police come to my neighborhood). They found him at a little pond playing with the frogs. No one judged the mom. We were all happy he was found, and the next day life went on as usually. All our kids were outside playing until the street lights came on.

  25. Hi. Just checking to see if my comments feed is weird. L.

  26. Hi. Once again, checking my comments feed. hi! — Lenore

  27. Rebecca, When my son was little and couldn’t be understood due to his speech delays, when we went to places like fair or the boardwalk, I wrote on his arm in Sharpie “Call my Mom 555-555-5555” with my cell phone number. I told him if he got separated he was to pull up his sleeve and show someone. He never did get separated, but I think that he liked the idea that he could communicate if he needed. He knew a little bit of sign, but most people don’t know that, so it wouldn’t have helped. It does eventually wash off, not that I really made of point of it.

    My daughters school, 6 years ago, had tags that the kids made the first day of kinder. They wrote their names, the teacher wrote the bus number. They had yarn and it was glued on the construction paper. Not a big deal if it got caught on anything. They used them for the first couple of days of school.

  28. Ohh this story brings me back to my childhood and being accidentally left on the bus once. On the first day of school the bus driver had a list with all the kids names on it and what stop they got off at so he could make sure everyone got off where they should be. The problem was my name somehow wasn’t on the list, and I was sitting in the middle of the bus, so by the time 3-year-old me pushed my way to the front he had closed the door and was driving off.

    And you know what happened? Absolutely nothing bad. I sat on the bus until the end of the route and the bus driver, who was very nice, asked me where I was supposed to get off. I told him where I lived and we drove back there. He talked to my caregiver, explained what happened and apologised, and our lives went on.

    No news story, no trauma, no blaming the school’s inept system and no stranger danger what-ifs. And this was only 20 years ago.🙂

  29. The opposite happened to my little brother. He got on the wrong bus.
    To be clear, every kid in my family went to this private K-8 school for a while, so when we were all there, there were 6 kids boarding the bus at our stop. There was a public high school within walking distance of our grade school, but my father decided that all of his children were going to receive private education through high school.
    So me and my two brothers go off to high school, and the year after that my stepsister starts high school. My little brother is going into the fifth grade. My other brother is talented and managed to get the flu or something equally terrible on the first day of school, so he’s in bed. My ten year old little brother is waiting out at the bus stop by himself for the first time in his life.
    A bus pulls up, he gets on. He sits down, happily on his way to school. After a few stops, he notices they’ve skipped a few of his friends houses that are usually on his bus’s route. He spots a few kids from his school, but thinks it’s weird because they all graduated the eighth grade.
    He realizes with horror that he got on the wrong bus! He boarded the bus to the public high school instead of the bus to his grade school. He nervously walks up to the busdriver and told him what happened.
    And what does the busdriver do? He laughs. He says, “Oh, that’s on our way! We’ll drop you off.”
    So the busdriver drives to the high school and lets all the high schoolers get off, then drives my brother to school a few blocks away.
    That’s it. The school had to call my parents and inform them of the mix-up, but they all had a good laugh about it. We still tease my brother about it.
    I’m incredibly thankful to that busdriver who went out of his way to get a confused kid to school.

  30. This makes me think of how, when I was in junior high and high school, I often had to get off at a different bus stop because I was going to babysit a child who lived about 12 blocks away from me. Sometimes bus drivers would give me all sorts of crap about letting me off at a stop that was not my home, even though I explained where I was going and that I had a responsibility. I always managed to get off the bus where I needed to, but sometimes it was under much protest.

    As for putting some sort of tag on an autistic, non-verbal child, that might work in some cases but I know a few of such children who would be bothered by such a tag and guaranteed to tear it off and toss it away. I am a big believer in free range parenting, but there are some kids who really do need to have a trusted person keep an eye on them anywhere they might get truly lost. The best solution I can think of is to build up a neighborhood of trusted people – if people a lot of people know your kid, someone will recognize him or her and look after them if there’s trouble.

  31. I’d like to share this article from the Brittish “The Guardian”. It’s about a modern form of rite of passage. Fun reading, it inspired me to do the same when my kid become of the right age!

    http://m.guardian.co.uk/ms/p/gnm/op/sx05zc1oUTAt_ev4Q2pP53Q/view.m?id=15&gid=lifeandstyle/2012/jul/28/modern-teenage-rite-of-passage&cat=lifeandstyle

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