After Autistic Child Wanders Away During School Trip, School District Enacts Major Policy Change

An autistic child wandered away on a school trip, and it ended up changing school policy across her district.

Olivia and Samantha Connolly are twins on the autism spectrum that are high needs. In 2014, they were attending Lawton Elementary School in the School District of Philadelphia.

Their mom, Kathy, says that the twins were supposed to have one-on-one aides for the entirety of the school day. However, budget cuts at the time resulted in aides leaving early.

When Olivia and Samantha went on a class trip to Chuck E. Cheese, they didn’t have those aides with them.

Photo: YouTube/CBS Philly

The trip to the restaurant was uneventful, and so was their time there. However, on the walk back, Olivia wandered away from the group unnoticed, and crossed a busy street on her own.

When she was found, she had removed some wet clothing and was partially naked. Thankfully, she was unharmed, and found near where she was last seen.

Photo: YouTube/CBS Philly

Connolly says that her daughter could have been killed.

“A child like Olivia, who is hyperactive, could have run for hours, could have reached [the Delaware River] within 30 minutes and then we would be reading about her,” Connolly said.

Photo: YouTube/CBS Philly

She sued the district. With some of the money from the settlement, she built a sensory room for her daughters. Her children now attend a private school for those with autism.

Photo: YouTube/CBS Philly

However, what happened with Olivia has triggered permanent policy change in Philadelphia Public Schools. If the school determines that a child needs assistance, they must assign a one-on-one aide, and the aide cannot be removed because of budget concerns.

“For it to not only end with my daughter being physically unharmed but then other special needs children to be positively impacted, I’m pretty happy about that,” Connolly said.

Photo: YouTube/CBS Philly

The twins are now 13 years old. Learn more in this video.

Support Research & Therapy

Help those with Autism and their families at The Autism Site for free!