Schumer Introduces Bill to Protect Autistic Children

Senator wants to prevent Avonte’s tragedy from happening again.

Eric Wright speaks to other pedestrians while wearing a placard with a picture of a missing autistic 14-year-old named Avonte Oquendo, on October 21, 2013 in the Queens borough of New York City. Hundreds of Police, volunteers, friends and family are searching for Avonte who walked out of the Center Boulevard School in Long Island City, Queens on October 4, 2013 and has not been seen since. Family members say that the teen has a fondness for trains and have focused their search along rail yards and in subway stations.
National Journal
Laura Ryan
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Laura Ryan
Jan. 27, 2014, 7:16 a.m.

Al­most four months after the aut­ist­ic teen dis­ap­peared from his Queens, N.Y., pub­lic school and one week after his re­mains were found along the shore of the East River, Avonte Oquendo was laid to rest Sat­urday.

Monday, Sen. Chuck Schu­mer in­tro­duced a bill aimed at pre­vent­ing it from hap­pen­ing again.

Schu­mer un­veiled “Avonte’s Law” with the boy’s moth­er stand­ing by his side. His bill would per­mit law-en­force­ment agen­cies to place a GPS device on aut­ist­ic chil­dren so that if they dis­ap­pear, they can be found quickly and re­turned home to safety. The devices could be worn around chil­dren’s wrists, at­tached to their shoelaces, or even sewn in­to their cloth­ing. Schu­mer de­scribed his plan as a “high-tech solu­tion to an age-old prob­lem.”

Aut­ism is a brain de­vel­op­ment dis­order that af­fects 1 in 88 chil­dren, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion. Com­mon symp­toms of aut­ism in­clude cog­nit­ive, lan­guage and be­ha­vi­or­al dis­ab­il­it­ies with vari­ations in sever­ity.

Wan­der­ing is a par­tic­u­lar chal­lenge for many par­ents of chil­dren with aut­ism. Ac­cord­ing to The New York Times, since 2011, 41 U.S. chil­dren with aut­ism have died after wan­der­ing off.

“Even­tu­ally we had to put locks on top of doors, and that’s how people with aut­ism live,” said Mi­chael Rosen, ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of Aut­ism Speaks, of his own son, Nicky. “You can’t turn your back for one second.”

Schu­mer’s bill would fill a gap left by the the fed­er­al Am­ber Alert sys­tem, which can be used onlyh for chil­dren who have been ab­duc­ted and does not ex­tend to chil­dren who have wandered off.

With fund­ing from the Justice De­part­ment, the pro­gram would be vol­un­tary and free for par­ti­cipants and would be im­ple­men­ted by loc­al po­lice de­part­ments.

The bill is modeled after a fed­er­al pro­gram cre­ated to track Alzheimer’s pa­tients.

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