In the wake of the death of an autistic teen who went missing last fall, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer has announced plans to introduce a $10 million bill that would fund tracking devices for children with autism.
“Avonte’s Law will allow his memory to live on while helping to prevent more children with autism from going missing,” Schumer said at a news conference Sunday, a day after the funeral for Avonte Oquendo, a 14-year-old who went missing from his Queens school last October. His remains were discovered earlier this month in the East River.
Oquendo was autistic and unable to speak, but managed to leave the school through an unlocked door. His parents plan to file a wrongful death lawsuit, as well.
Schumer's bill would authorize $10 million in federal funds for local law enforcement agencies to buy the tracking devices, which parents would then have the option of using.
“It will help put parents at ease," the senator said. "The technology will allow parents of all children with autism — no matter how much or how little money they have — to enjoy the benefits of a high-tech solution to an age-old problem.”
The GPS-enabled devices would be placed on belts, shoelaces or wristwatches of the autistic kids, Schumer said.
"Wandering" is a problem parents dealing autistic children. A 2013 study in the journal Pediatrics found "nearly half of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) attempt to wander or bolt from a safe, supervised place," and "more than half of these wandering children go missing."
According to Schumer, the legislation he's proposing is similar to a federal program that tracks seniors who have Alzheimer's disease.
"By expanding the innovative program we currently have in place for at-risk Alzheimer's patients, we will help thousands of families avoid what Avonte's family just experienced," he said.
"This very brilliantly gets around asking [schools] to change," David Perecman, a lawyer who represents the Oquendo family, told WNYC. "Because whether they change or they don’t, if a child wanders there will be a way to find them."
"Can you imagine being lost and not being able to talk?" Michael Rosen, executive vice president of Autism Speaks, told NY1. "It's something that needs to be dealt with right away, and this is a great solution."
“The goal today — because we can’t go back in time — is to make sure never again,” Perecman told WCBS-880. “And this will help.”