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.