In an effort to gain support for Avonte’s Law, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced Monday that he has invited Vanessa Fontaine, mother of Avonte Oquendo, to attend the State of the Union Address Tuesday evening according to news reports.
Avonte’s Law would offer protections to prevent – and respond to – wandering incidents, namely in the autism community. The legislation would allocate funding towards assisting families of special needs children in need of tracking devices, as well as provide other services, such as first responder training and education.
In a 2010 presentation before a federal committee, the National Autism Association (NAA) sounded the alarm on autism-related wandering incidents, requesting immediate response, research, training for law enforcement, and tools for families. NAA’s request led to the 2012 study published in Pediatrics, which showed that 49% of children with autism are prone to wandering away from a safe environment, such as school or home. Over the last three years, roughly 15% of wandering incidents reported by the media have ended in death according to NAA.
“NAA is in full support of Avonte’s Law and have used our data and experience with the issue – both on a personal and professional level – to provide the Senator’s office with well-rounded guidance for the legislation that focuses both on prevention and response aids for families,” said NAA President Wendy Fournier. “It is our hope that Ms. Fontaine’s story, and the stories of thousands of autism families, will create swift and thoughtful action to prevent more tragedies like Avonte’s.”
Avonte Oquendo’s remains were found in the East River in January 2014, three months after he left his Queens NY School unsupervised. The 14-year-old had autism and was nonverbal. His disappearance echoed hundreds of similar cases involving a person with autism, including two other children with autism who went missing that same weekend as outlined in a New York Times Op-Ed by NAA.
Individuals with autism are often attracted to water, yet have little to no sense of danger. According to a study published by NAA, accidental drowning is responsible for 91% of deaths following an autism-related wandering incident.
In Schumer’s proposed bill, Avonte’s Law would require the Department of Justice to create a new program that would provide assistance to local authorities, including police departments and schools, to assist children with autism spectrum disorder.
ABOUT NATIONAL AUTISM ASSOCIATION (NAA)
Founded in 2003, NAA is a parent-run advocacy organization and the leading voice on urgent issues related to autism safety, autism abuse, crisis prevention, and autism-related wandering prevention and response. Over the last seven years, NAA has provided $100,000 to law enforcement for tracking devices, distributed over 15,000 wandering-prevention safety boxes to autism families, and created AWAARE.org.
For wandering-prevention resources, please visit awaare.org.