UPDATE: Avonte’s Law Is the Legislation We Need to Protect Wandering People with Autism
In late 2016, the bill for Avonte’s Law failed to gain final approval before Senate ended its session for the year. It unanimously passed in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, but when it went back to the House, some language was changed, which then caused controversy. Some worried that the tracking devices could be used not just to find people who had wandered, but to also act on unfair discrimination.
“What worries us is that police would be able to say, ‘we don’t know where they are and they’re autistic, so they might be a threat simply because they’re autistic,'” explained Samantha Crane, the director of public policy for the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.
As a result of this controversy, Senate ended up not voting on the bill. Legislators will have to start the process all over again in order for Avonte’s Law to have a chance of passing—something that probably will happen. So hope is not lost yet!
A lost child is one of the most terrifying things a parents can experience. And this fear is amplified if you’re a member of the autism community. Some children on the spectrum are prone to wandering, or even running off, away from the people watching out for them. In 2013, Avonte Oquendo ran away from his school in Long Island City. Tragically, he did not survive being lost in a big city. It is for him that Sen. Charles Schumer has named his new bill—a bill that would help protect the children who wander and the people that love them…
Schumer’s bill proposes using pre-existing technology to protect wandering children on the spectrum. GPS and RFID tracking devices have been used in the Alzheimer’s community to help individuals that are prone to wandering maintain their dignity while also keeping them safe. By wearing a bracelet or other GPS device, police and family members can easily locate their loved ones and protect them from harm.
Sen. Schumer has proposed a bill to the Senate that would provide training to first responders, school administrators, family members, clinicians, as well as the public on how to protect wandering children.
Schumer’s bill, nicknamed Avonte’s Law, would also allocate federal funds to provide GPS devices to children that need them. This technology could help protect children by locating them before any harm falls upon them.
Avonte Oquendo’s story is tragic. He loved to run, and one day at school, he ran out of the building before any administrator noticed. Nobody could find him until, three months later, his body turned up in the East River, 11 miles away from his school. Avonte’s mother, Vanessa Fontaine, says that she’s eager “to get this law passed so no one else will have to suffer like me and my family has, as my son is not here with us anymore. If we had this device in place, I would still have him here.”
Fontaine’s cry is felt throughout the community and beyond.
This bill seems like a commonsense law for the Senate to pass, but the process of executing legislation is a long one. Avonte’s Law is still going through the legal process, which means there is more work to be done.
Your voice needs to be heard. While the bill makes its way through congress, there is another solution to help protect wandering children. That solution is to ensure that police are receiving proper training to help keep wandering children safe. Until we can get the government to fund GPS tracking devices and support Avonte’s Law, education is the key way of providing help.