“Kevin & Avonte’s Law” is named, in part, after Avonte Oquendo, a 14-year-old autistic student from Rego Park who could not communicate verbally and died after he wandered from his school in 2013.
By Forum Staff
The U.S. Senate has passed legislation that will create and fund a program to provide voluntary tracking devices and expand support services for families who care for someone with autism, dementia, or other special needs, where “bolting,” “elopement,” or “wandering” from parents or caregivers can happen, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced on Friday.
The bill is named in part after Avonte Oquendo, a non-verbal, 14-year-old boy with autism who bolted from his Long Island City school in October 2013. His remains washed up on a College Point shoreline three months later. Law-enforcement officials concluded that Avonte had fallen into the East River and drowned.
Schumer on Friday said that passage of the legislation, which he first introduced in 2014, will help Avonte’s “memory live on” while preventing future tragedies.
“Making voluntary tracking devices available to vulnerable children with autism who are at risk of wandering will help put countless families at ease,” Schumer added. “This legislation, ‘Kevin & Avonte’s Law,’ will create and fund a program to provide voluntary tracking devices and expand services for children and families with [autism spectrum disorder] or other developmental disorders in which wandering is common. I hope that the House of Representatives will rally together to finally pass this legislation, which is essential to the families of loved ones with ASD and other special needs, into law.”
According to New York’s senior senator, the legislation reauthorizes and expands an existing program designed to assist in locating Alzheimer’s disease and dementia patients, known as the Missing Alzheimer’s Disease Patient Alert Program, to include children with developmental disabilities, such as autism, and renames it the Missing Americans Alert Program. In expanding this program, the bill ensures dedicated Department of Justice grant funds are available for local law enforcement and non-profit entities to provide wandering prevention training and to implement lifesaving technology programs to find individuals who have wandered. The initiatives supported by the bill could be educational in nature, Schumer noted, or they could make non-invasive tracking technology available for those who wander. Additionally, the bill provides funding for community outreach in order to create awareness around how to identify and aid children or adults with developmental disabilities who have wandered.
Schumer last week also highlighted a report published earlier this year by the National Autism Foundation that revealed that between 2011 and 2016, nearly one-third of missing-person cases of those with autism resulted in death or required medical attention. According to AWAARE and the National Autism Association, of these children, 74 percent run or wander from their own home or from someone else’s home, 40 percent run or wander from stores and 29 percent run or wander from schools. Close calls with traffic injuries were reported for 65 percent of the missing children and close calls with drowning were reported for 24 percent of the missing children.
Schumer pointed out that running and wandering in children and teens with autism takes an enormous toll on families and caregivers. Fifty-six percent of parents reported running as one of the most stressful behaviors they have had to cope with as caregivers of a child with autism; and 50 percent of parents reported receiving little guidance on preventing or addressing this common behavior.