School district apologizes after teen with autism left at Wal-Mart during field trip

Posted at 10:14 PM, Nov 05, 2015
and last updated 2015-11-06 13:05:01-05

LAYTON, Utah -- Nathan Anderson is not your average teenager. While kids his age learn to drive, 16-year-old Nathan can barely communicate. So, his parents were terrified when they got a call from a police officer, telling them Nathan was found wandering alone in a Wal-Mart.

"It's just been an emotional roller coaster for the past 24 hours," says Nathan's mother, Tamara Anderson.

Nathan was on a field trip with his Special Education classmates from Davis High School. He was in a group of 15 and somehow got left behind. Luckily, the Wal-Mart employees, under the direction of Assistant Manager Tina Jensen, immediately stepped in and called Layton Police. Meanwhile, they provided comfort and care to the vulnerable young man.

"We told him we would find his teacher," Jensen said. "He got excited, so we sat in McDonald's. He was a good young man. He was a lot of fun to play around with. We were telling him how awesome his running shoes were and he got really excited."

The Wal-Mart employees and police officers soon realized they couldn't get Nathan to communicate.

"Nathan will repeat what you say, but he won’t answer what you say," said Justin Anderson, Nathan's father. "So they would continue to ask him his name, and he would say, 'What’s your name?'"

That's when they called the school district, who sent a representative with special needs experience.

"She knew people with Autism, you can’t communicate a regular way, so she started doing writing with him and that’s how they were able to find out his name, our names, so they could contact us," Justin Anderson said.

Nathan can't communicate with his parents, either, so they're not exactly sure how he feels about the incident. The only clue they have is when they got home, he started repeating a phrase from a movie with a police officer.

Tamara Anderson said: "I would say, 'You saw a police officer today, Didn’t you?' and he would say, 'Hi I’m police officer Dave.' He would keep repeating that back to me. 'Hi I'm officer Dave.' So I think he knew something was going on, and that's the best way he could express it."

The Davis School District provided the following statement to FOX 13 News:

"This incident should have never happened. It doesn't matter who the student is or what the situation may be. No student should be left behind--ever. We apologize to the parents and to the student, and are doing everything we can to uncover every pertinent detail. We take this very seriously, and there is no doubt disciplinary action will be taken."

The Andersons are incredibly grateful to the Wal-Mart employees and the Layton Police Department, who did everything right in this situation. They say when it comes to dealing with people suffering from severe autism, the best thing you can do is watch out for them, be kind and quickly get professional help.