Every day we hear from our autism parent clients that wandering and elopement behaviors keep them up at night. And while there are many incredible schools with unparalleled behavioral expertise in New York City, if a child has these behaviors, and especially if they are also nonverbal, low-verbal, or may shut down when overwhelmed, not even the most secure school with the best behaviorists can fix such complex issues overnight.
Parents have every right to be stressed out. According to the National Autism Foundation between 2011 and 2016, nearly one-third of missing-person cases of those with autism resulted in death or required medical attention. One solution that more and more families are using is to use GPS-enabled tracking devices. This technology provides some families with a little more peace of mind, but these devices usually require their own cellular plans that must be paid monthly, and that cost can be out of reach for many.
On December 21st, just before the holidays, the U.S. Senate approved S.2070, Kevin and Avonte’s Law of 2017. The bill is sponsored by New York Senator Charles Schumer (D), and was first introduced in 2014. It was named in part after Avonte Ocquendo, a nonverbal 14-year-old boy with autism who eloped from his public school in Queens in the fall of 2013 and tragically drowned in the East River. Its other namesake was 9-year-old Kevin Curtis Wills, another boy with autism, who drowned in 2008 after wandering away from his Iowa home.
Kevin and Avonte’s Law would provide grants to community organizations and law enforcement agencies to provide education and non-invasive, voluntary tracking technology to families who care for someone with autism, dementia, or other special needs who are prone to bolting, elopement, or wandering. In order to become law, the House must approve the identical bill, H.R.4221, sponsored by New Jersey Rep. Christopher Smith (R), and the president must sign it into law.
Kevin and Avonte’s Law enjoys broad, bipartisan support, and there is every reason to hope that it may become law this year. Autism Speaks has an advocacy page for this issue with a form you can complete to send a message to your representatives asking them to support Kevin & Avonte’s Law.