Northern Ireland autistic boy (8) left alone strapped in school bus for four hours
An investigation has been launched after a Co Tyrone schoolboy with autism was left strapped inside a bus on his own for several hours.
The eight-year-old, who is understood to have non-verbal autism, was left on the bus at an Education Authority (EA) depot in Killyclogher for four hours on Tuesday.
He was due to attend a summer scheme at Arvalee School and Resource Centre in nearby Omagh.
According to the Ulster Herald, he was left behind, strapped in the bus and only discovered when a depot worker walked past the vehicle.
The boy's parents were reportedly "angry and distraught" over the incident.
The EA confirmed it was "investigating a transport-related incident involving a pupil attending a summer scheme".
A spokesperson explained: "The safety and the wellbeing of all pupils is the EA's primary concern.
"The outcome of the investigation will determine what additional measures may be required to ensure an incident of this nature does not happen again."
Arvalee principal Jonathan Gray told the Belfast Telegraph yesterday: "This is a dreadful situation and one that cannot happen again.
"We must allow the EA to complete their investigation before a comment can be made.
"The school and the staff working the summer scheme will focus on supporting all children, ensuring they have a fantastic summer scheme.
"It is an awful situation when you consider what could have happened.
"I am thankful that no further harm has come (of it). The staff on the scheme are devastated that this occurred and are so glad to see the child return.
"The family are very supportive of the school and the child is very happy in school, and we want to make sure that this continues."
But Shirelle Stewart, director of the National Autistic Society Northern Ireland, said questions must be asked about why no one noticed the boy was missing. "This is certainly not the first incident of this kind and clearly the EA needs to implement very clear protocols to ensure this never happens again," she added.
"Staff should be checking the number of children who are on a bus and ensuring that the number correlates with the headcount when they disembark at the destination.
"It does not take long for someone to go around the bus and ensure that there are no children or vulnerable adults remaining on the vehicle prior to it departing.
"Clearly we need to be asking the question, why did it take four hours for someone to raise the alarm? Why did no one notice this child was not at activities from the very outset?
"We need to be mindful of the tragic consequences which could have resulted from what has happened here, especially given our recent spell of hot weather. If the child had been on a hot bus for that period of time or had managed to get off the bus and onto the open road or even taken a seizure...
"There have been incidents of this nature in other parts of the world.
"What has happened here must be treated with the utmost seriousness.
"We could be having a different conversation today."