The murmur of Avonte Oquendo’s name still burns nearly two years after the Autistic teenager’s body was found in the East River.
Since then, have we done enough to avoid such grave reoccurrences? Lawmakers haven’t moved much on the subject. Maybe it’s because such incidents are rare? The numbers show that just the opposite is true.
Numerous Autistic children have wandered off and were never seen alive again. Research indicates that almost one out of two Autistic children has the tendency to wander off. However, over ninety percent of parents fear that their Autistic child is at risk of doing so.
Luckily, these numbers can be immensely reduced. Let our mourning for Oquendo and others like him motivate proper action. Let us translate our sorrow into demands for safety. Let us take action now— before another child goes missing.
Advocates are calling for new safety protocols for those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Thankfully, one has been drawn up in loving memory of the New York City student. “Avonte’s Law” (S. 163) was introduced by the U.S. Senator Charles Schumer in 2014, a day after Avonte’s funeral.
“Avonte’s Law” aims to reduce the risk of harm or death of individuals who tend to wander off, including individuals with ASD and those suffering of Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, the law will “safeguard the well-being of individuals with disabilities during interactions with law enforcement” as well as “increase their personal safety and survival skills,” as notes the Autism Safety Coalition’s website. Furthermore, the website states that Avonte’s Law will implement procedures to educate others on minimizing the risk of wandering. This not only means training law enforcement agencies and first responders, but also schools and the general public.
According to Senator Schumer, the Department of Justice would finance optional electronic tracking devices for individuals at risk of getting lost. These devices, worn as a watch or even sewn into clothing, emit signals to first responders in order to find the wanderer as quickly as possible, before harm hits. Senator Schumer calls them “a high-tech solution to an age-old problem.” Furthermore, as a preventative measure, twenty-one thousand audible door alarms are being installed in New York schools before the end of the year, says deputy schools chancellor Elizabeth Rose.
“It’s a commonsense bill,” said Wendy Fournier of the National Autism Association. The Bill is highly supported by the Autism Safety Coalition, a group of national organizations united to promote national safety policies specifically aimed at individuals with ASD or other developmental disabilities.
Unfortunately, Avonte’s Law has not been passed, yet. It is up to us to inform our senators that the Law is a smart solution to a pressing problem. We must persuade them to co-sponsor S.163. To learn more about Avonte’s Law, browse Autism Safety Coalition’s website at www.autismsafetycoalition.org .
Written by Maude Plucker