2017-07-19

Mystery couple comes to aid of boy with Autism

by Brittany Wentzell

  • <p>BRITTANY WENTZELL PHOTO</p><p>Five-year-old Bradley Hilts takes a bounce on a mini-trampoline in his yard. The Pentz Elementary student recently went missing during a school day and two good Samaritans stopped to help.</p>

Elizabeth Hilts is looking for two good Samaritans - and answers - after the couple stopped and helped out her five-year-old son with Autism whom they found wandering along Highway 331.

The child managed to leave his school unnoticed, possibly through an open back door, and make his way to the busy highway.

Hilts' son Bradley attends Pentz Elementary School. On June 6 Bradley left the school and headed in the direction of her home. Hilts believes he made it down the road around 100 metres away from the school and in front of West Side United Church, but the details are a bit murky.

"I don't know how far down he was," she said.

The man and a woman encountered the young boy walking down the road. The woman stayed with Bradley while the man ran to the school to inform staff that they had found a child walking on the highway.

At that point, Bradley's teacher assistant and staff were already searching for Bradley when the man informed them he'd found the boy.

School staff then proceeded to carry Bradley back to the school, something Hilts believes may have been alarming to the man and woman who stopped to help. Bradley is tall for his age and for the most part is non-verbal. He also has a tendency to pinch or kick.

"I don't know how long those people were out there with him, I don't know how long they tried to hold him there," she said.

Hilts didn't find out about the incident until an hour after it happened, and the school failed to take the names of the couple. Hilts would like to speak to them to find out more about her son's misadventure, but also to thank them for their help.

Staff shaken

Rebecca Smart, principal at Pentz, told LighthouseNOW in an emailed statement that staff are "shaken" by what happened.

"We, as a school, are sorry that this happened and extend a sincere apology to Bradley and his family. Our staff has been shaken, and has worked since that to develop and implement increased measures for safety," she said.

Smart said the day was an abnormal one that saw many people coming and going to a spring concert, but also because of renovations being carried out to a portable classroom outside the school.

"Normally there is one door used for entrance and egress. On this day, there were three doors being used by several people. These factors contributed to a door being left open," she said.

Not happening again

Autism Nova Scotia has previously praised Pentz Elementary for their work with Bradley. Before he even attended the school staff took measures to ensure that he would be comfortable at the educational institute.

Hilts says she has seen improvements to Bradley's behaviour since he began attending the school, and he has started to feed himself, and even say some words.

But she's concerned that the school is becoming lax when it comes to keeping an eye on the boy.

"I don't believe they've been on him, they're getting relaxed," she said. "If someone was with him, he never would have got away."

Scott Milner, superintendent of schools at South Shore Regional School Board says the board and the school are ensuring that something like this doesn't happen again.

"I've been talking to the principal in the last couple weeks about the matter ... and what should change moving forward," he said.

"It takes a community to raise a child and I am appreciative of (the man and woman) for not just driving past," he added regarding the people who came to Bradley's aid.

Hilts met with Smart and Milner on July 7 to work together to create a plan for Bradley that involves walkie-talkies for his teachers' assistants and other staff members in case he wanders out of sight again.

They are also looking at the potential of a tracker for his clothing as well as employing painted lines on the floors.

"They're going to get him one of those trackers that goes on his clothes and then the (teacher's assistant) will wear one and it will go off if he goes outside the perimeter of where he's supposed to be," said Hilts.

Bradley, like many children with autism, finds lines appealing, which may be why he headed out toward the road. Even as his mother spoke to LighthouseNOW, Bradley was lining up toys on the floor.

"It will be fluorescent paint that goes around the school because he really likes to follow lines to make sure he stays on school property," she said.

He's also a wanderer. Even in her own home, Hilts keeps the doors and windows locked and has a fenced in yard. She says her son once tried to get out from a window in the home and that he has a tendency to wander though she notes that he is not a runner.

Despite being disappointed with what happened on June 6, Hilts says she feels confident in the plan the school has developed with her for Bradley.

"I feel good, I feel like they're really taking it seriously now," she said.

Pentz is scheduled for closure at the end of 2018. Hilts worries about having him further away from home, but says Pentz staff is planning to help him make the transition over the next year.

"I love them all, they're so awesome with him and it was just that one day ... and I told them that," she said. "They taught him so much."

"We are united in our goal for Bradley's safety and in identifying and thanking the community members who helped that day," said Smart.

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