The National Autism Association (NAA) applauds the U.S. Senate’s passage of of S. 2614, Kevin and Avonte’s Law of 2016, to address wandering incidents and fatalities in children with developmental disabilities.
Introduced by Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Thom Tillis (R-NC), the bipartisan bill ensures that grants from the U.S. Department of Justice can be used by state and local law enforcement agencies and nonprofits for education, training and resources to proactively prevent and quickly locate missing individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities. If signed into law, the bill would also facilitate the development of training and emergency protocols for school personnel and other community officials.
“This is a fear parents face daily,” says Wendy Fournier of the National Autism Association. “Children and adults who cannot speak, recognize danger, or understand ways to keep themselves safe are the most vulnerable people living in the country today.”
Kevin and Avonte’s Law is named after two boys with autism who died after wandering away from a safe setting. In 2008, Kevin Curtis Wills tragically drowned in Iowa’s Raccoon River at the age of 9. In 2013, Avonte Oquendo, 14, wandered from his school in New York City. Three months later, his body was discovered in the East River.
According to NAA, there were 564 autism-related wandering cases in the U.S. between 2011 and 2015 serious enough to be reported by the media. Of those cases, 98 ended in death. For children 9 & younger, cases ended in death 44% of the time; for ages 13 & under, 31% of the time.
Wandering behaviors are considered common and short-lived in toddlers, but may persist or re-emerge in individuals with disabilities. A 2012 study published in Pediatrics found that nearly half of children with autism wander (or “elope”) from safe settings.
Representatives Chris Smith and Maxine Waters have introduced a companion bill in the U.S House of Representatives.
ABOUT THE NATIONAL AUTISM ASSOCIATION
The National Autism Association has been the leading voice on issues related to autism-related wandering and elopement for almost a decade.
Over the years, NAA has spearheaded multiple programs and initiatives to combat wandering deaths, including the creation of awaare.org and NAA’s Big Red Safety Box Program. It has provided more than 25,000 safety kits to autism families and teachers across the country, donated more than $100,000 in tracking equipment and devices, and trained law enforcement agencies throughout the U.S. and Canada.
For information about wandering prevention and prevention resources, visit http://awaare.org.