Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) plans on introducing a bill to fund tracking devices for those with autism or other developmental disorders who have a tendency to “bolt” from caregivers.
The voluntary program would be modeled on a similar funding program for Alzheimer’s patients.
The bill will be named after Avonte Oquendo, a 14-year-old boy with a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder who ran off from his Queens school in October. Avonte’s remains were discovered Jan. 16 along the East River in College Point, just southwest of the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge.
The funds would be disbursed by local law enforcement who would manage the program with parents and schools. Schumer has tried to get the Justice Department to set up such a program to no avail, hence the legislation to create one.
“The tragic end to the search for Avonte Oquendo clearly demonstrates that we need to do more to protect children with autism who are at risk of running away,” said Schumer. “Thousands of families face the awful reality each and every day that their child with autism may run away. Making voluntary tracking devices available will help put parents at ease, and most importantly, help prevent future tragedies like Avonte’s”
“By expanding the innovative program we currently have in place for at-risk Alzheimer’s patients, we will help thousands of families avoid what Avonte’s family just experienced.”
“The tragic fate of Avonte Oquendo hit home with parents in New York and across the country,” said Autism Speaks President Liz Feld. “The incidence of wandering has reached frightening levels and individuals with autism are especially vulnerable. We need to raise awareness and increase education so that tragedies like this never happen again.”
Tracking devices can be worn as non-tampering wristwatches, anklets, clipped onto belt loops or onto shoelaces, or woven into clothing.
Schumer stressed that they shouldn’t be used as a first resort and educational and behavior supports should be employed in conjunction with the tracking devices, but also noted that recovery time for those wearing the devices is only about 30 minutes.
According to a study conducted by the Interactive Autism Network and AWAARE, 49 percent of children and teens with autism attempt to run, or wander. Of those who attempted to run, 53 percent of the children were missing long enough to cause serious concern.