BY WILLIAM HARRIS
Inspired in part by the tragic disappearance of Long Island City student Avonte Oquendo, a bill included in the new omnibus federal spending package passed on Thursday provides life-saving technology programs and grants for local law enforcement and non-profit organizations in order to protect autistic children.
“Kevin & Avonte’s Law” is named after the tragic deaths of Long Island City’s Avonte Oquendo and Kevin Curtis of Iowa. Oquendo, a non-verbal boy with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) was only 14 years old back in October of 2013, when he left his LIC school unsupervised. After a three-month search, his body was found on the Queens waterfront; he had tragically drowned in the East River.
The bill, according to U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, will help locate children with autism and other disabilities who wander away from adult supervision.
“After Avonte Oquendo ran away from his school and went missing, I learned just how prevalent wandering is among children with autism and other development disorders. Since Avonte’s tragic death I’ve pushed Congress to pass Kevin & Avonte’s Law, a bill that will create and fund a program to provide voluntary GPS tracking devices to children or adults with developmental disorders, like Autism Spectrum Disorder,” said Schumer.
Schumer has been working on the this for several years before being added to the federal spending bill. It will attempt, to mirror the existing program, the Missing Alzheimer’s Disease Patient Alert Program, while also expanding the current Missing Americans Alert Program. While ensuring that the Dedicated of Justice (DOJ) grants funds for local law enforcement and non-profit organizations, new technology programs will also be used to find individuals who wander away from supervision.
According to an American Academy of Pediatrics Study, almost half of all children with autism wander at least once. Between the years 2011 and 2016, nearly one third of the missing person cases of those with autism have resulted in death or in need of medical care according to a study by the National Autism Foundation.
The National Autism Association cites that children and teens with autism tend to run away because of a sensory overload, avoiding a situation or even finding something or someone they care about. The Missing Americans Alert Program will provide the awareness that communities will need in order to prevent these situations from happening in the future.
“Making voluntary tracking devices available to vulnerable children with autism or adults with Alzheimer’s who are at risk of wandering will help out countless families at ease,” said Schumer.
The Missing Americans Alert Program will also be voluntary for parents, work in conjunction with schools and provide funding for community outreach. The federal spending bill must be signed into law by the President before going into effect.