The day after the funeral for Avonte Oquendo, the 14-year-old boy with autism whose remains were found months after he disappeared from a New York City school in October of 2013, his mother and grandmother listened with their heads down and eyes reddened as United States Senator Schumer announced a proposal for a new law. Avonte’s Law would provide optional electronic tracking devices to be worn by children with autism and others with developmental disabilities who wander.
“Avonte’s running away was not an isolated incident,” Senator Schumer said. “This is a high-tech solution to an age-old problem.”
More recently, several advocacy groups, including Autism Speaks, the Autism Society, The Arc, the National Autism Association, and others have all banded together to call for federal action to help prevent wandering. Research suggests that about half of children with autism have a tendency to bolt, often to escape over stimulation from noise, and 42 percent of such reported incidents involving children under 9-years-old have ended in death, the groups said.
The new legislation would expand an existing Department of Justice program that grants money to law enforcement agencies and other groups to provide trackers for people who have Alzheimer’s disease and allocate federal dollars to offer free voluntary electronic tracking devices to children with autism and other developmental disabilities who are prone to bolting.
When they bolt, many children with autism are drawn to bodies of water where they may drown, lured there because they seem soothing, said Michael Rosen, the executive vice president for strategic communications at Autism Speaks, an advocacy group.
“It’s a common sense bill,” said Wendy Fournier, president of the National Autism Association. “Children and adults with autism and other disabilities frequently wander from safe settings, often with tragic consequences. It’s time for federal action,” Fournier said.
The tracking devices could be attached to wristwatches, affixed to ankle bracelets, clipped on belts, or woven into shoelaces. "The program would be completely voluntary for parents and run by local law enforcement," a release from Schumer's office said.
Senator Schumer first proposed the bill in 2013 while Avonte was missing and reintroduced the legislation in January of 2015, but so far the bill has failed to gain traction in Congress. For those of you who believe this bill would provide much needed support for children who wander and provide them the protection they need during the school day, I urge you to contact your legislators to demand the bill’s passage.
You can read more about Avonte's Law here.
Martha Millar is a California special education and special needs planning lawyer
You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call her today for a free telephone consultation at 916-724-5211.
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