HAYWARD -- Carlos Archuleta is protective of his 2-year-old daughter who has special needs, so when a transit company in June left her not once, but twice, at an early intervention center, he was beside himself.

"As a parent, you're going nuts," he said. "What do you mean, she's stranded?"

Every day, children with special needs, some of them very young, are driven by bus to schools for instruction and therapy. But when things go wrong, as with Archuleta's daughter, it can be extremely distressing for children and their parents.

Archuleta came forward with his story after reading about another Hayward special-needs toddler being left at her school. A bus driver for Durham School Services failed to pick up 3-year-old Kaitlyn Gonzalez on the autistic girl's first day of preschool earlier this month.

Most youngsters begin public school at age 5, but children with special needs in California receive care and instruction starting at birth. By age 3, many are bused to preschool, said Mimi Lou, a developmental and clinical psychologist at Children's Hospital Oakland.

"Children on the autism spectrum, even young ones, often do unusually well on buses. They like being in a moving vehicle," she said.

However, those children also have more trouble with change than other kids, Lou said.

"In unfamiliar experiences, they have more difficulty," she said. "It's important for them to have a sense of security and control of their world."


Advertisement

If adults are acting confused and anxious, children pick up on that, said Lou, who has a specialty in autism spectrum disorders. "I imagine everyone got distressed when the bus did not come, and that was also distressing to the child."

Archuleta said he wanted his daughter, Isabelle, to have the same opportunity as his son, who has made remarkable progress thanks to the specialized Kidango center in Fremont. He and his Isabelle's mother, Sandra Macias, don't have transportation, so the bus was the only way to get Isabelle to the center.

Isabelle's treatment and her bus service, provided by MV Transit, are coordinated by Regional Center of the East Bay. Archuleta said he and Macias asked the Regional Center to hire a different transit company, but they were turned down. He said the only option the center gave them was for Archuleta to ride in a taxi with the girl, which he said isn't possible because he has to pick up his son from a Hayward preschool.

Repeated attempts to contact the Regional Center of the East Bay and MV Transportation for comment were unsuccessful.

Kaitlyn had been looking forward to riding on the bus to her school in early September, just as she had watched her brothers do, said her mother, Alicia Gonzalez.

Kaitlyn is a triplet, and her two brothers have been in preschool since January. She and her mother would drive behind the bus as it took the boys to school.

"Kaitlyn got to see them riding the bus every day. It was something she saw them get to do that she didn't. She was excited about riding the bus," Gonzalez said.

After Gonzalez put Kaitlyn on the Durham School Services bus, the mother of five later went to the school to check on her. She looked into the classroom and saw her daughter, along with the girl's aide and special education teacher. Everything looked fine, so Gonzalez left, she said.

She later got a call telling her the bus had not picked up Kaitlyn. Gonzalez later learned that her daughter had been transferred to another bus in the morning.

Durham issued a statement at the time that it takes the accusations seriously and has worked to "improve coordination and communication."

"If they understood about autism, the last thing they would want to do is transfer the child without the parents knowing," Gonzalez said.

Archuleta's daughter, who was born prematurely and is developmentally delayed, was starting to improve at Kidango, but her parents say they can't trust the bus company, MV Transportation. So she no longer attends Kidango.

"I'm not going to put my 2-year-old who can't speak for herself in the hands of someone who would leave her," Archuleta said.

Even though a specialist comes to the family's home twice a week to work with her, she is falling further behind, her father said.

Both Archuleta and Gonzalez said they have heard from other parents with similar stories of problems with the bus companies, and they have fought to get services for their children.

"The public does not know what you have to go through when you have a special-needs kid," Gonzalez said.