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Senator Calls On Feds To Address Autism Wandering


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The federal government would provide free electronic tracking devices for children with autism and other developmental disabilities who are prone to wandering under a proposed new law.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said he is introducing legislation this week to allocate $10 million to the Justice Department to create a new program to provide the devices to families wanting help monitoring their children.

The proposal comes just over a week after the remains of 14-year-old Avonte Oquendo were discovered. Oquendo, who had autism, went missing from his New York City school in October prompting a massive search.

“Thousands of families face the awful reality each and every day that their child with autism may run away. Making voluntary tracking devices available will help put parents at ease, and most importantly, help prevent future tragedies like Avonte,” Schumer said.

The bill named “Avonte’s Law” would create a grant program allowing the Justice Department to award funds to local organizations and law enforcement agencies so that they could provide tracking devices to families.

Participation and use of the technology would be strictly voluntary, Schumer said.

Research suggests that about half of individuals with autism are prone to wandering. Many parents already employ tracking devices to monitor their kids with special needs, but advocates say that the devices — which often involve a monthly fee — can be cost-prohibitive for families.

Tracking devices can be worn as a bracelet or attached to a child’s shoe or belt loop. In the event that an individual goes missing, a caregiver can contact the company that provides the device in order to identify the missing person’s location.

Schumer said his proposal is modeled after an existing federal program that provides tracking devices for those with Alzheimer’s disease.

The senator first called for the Justice Department to provide tracking devices for individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities in November. Schumer said he is working with the agency to put a program in place but indicated that legislation is needed to ensure that the Justice Department has the authority and the funding to act.

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Comments (17 Responses)

  1. William Stillman, SilverXord Publications says:

    This article states that about half of all children with autism are known to wander; but I wonder how that compares to those children without autism who are also known to wander. A GPS tracking device that can be worn on the wrist or in clothing might make good sense for any child of a certain age range. Perhaps instead of a national law to provide for GPS tracking devices at taxpayer expense, a child-friendly GPS device could be marketed affordably or significantly discounted for any number of concerned parents of any child. Of course, it is equally important to instruct and enforce rules about the physical boundaries of the environments in which each child with autism finds himself. No child is ever too young to be informed about such expectations, and to apply fair and reasonable discipline when the rules are broken. –William Stillman

  2. vmgillen says:

    Will these be sub-dermal implants, or what? My son absolutely would not tolerate bracelets – almost tore his hand off trying to remove it. We tried embedding tracking transmitters in his sneakers – that worked for about five minutes. Something must be done, for sure, but it requires consideration if it’s going to be useful.

  3. Carmen says:

    I find it interesting that the first response is tracking devices. I don’t ever hear anyone ask why the school wasn’t providing a 1 on 1 aide as required by law under IDEA? Instead of spending millions on tracking devices we could invest the money in screening, training and employing people, which would put people to work and help our economy. Still, why aren’t these schools not held responsible for providing what is required of them in IDEA? smh

  4. Rachele Schafer says:

    Having raised children on the Spectrum and being on the Spectrum myself, I do comprehend the concern when a child wanders off. The ones who habitually do so often had a sensitivity issue connected to the wandering and when the issue is resolved, the child is able to calm down. The concept of tracking a human being like one does your dog or cat is beyond me when there are so many noninvasive methods to assist families with autism. By the way, what are you going to do when the children grow up? Will you have a group of people that you can track anywhere? With people already choosing to abort babies because they might have autism, what does the government plan to do with this? There are plenty of ways that parents can track their children, such as mobile phones with GPS, without the government’s involvement. Really, think about it.

  5. Marge Amelio says:

    Is this proposed new law for NY only? I live in Chicago. These tracking devices were given out free to many suburbs around me, years ago, but different counties, but it did not include Cook County. I asked if I could drive there to get one, and was told, I had to live their and have proof, in order to get one. Just wondering if this is only going to cover New York City.

  6. Billie says:

    Other children may wander away but they have the capability of asking for help or finding their way back home. The difference with children/adults with autism or other developemental disabilities is their inability to ask for help. My son has had a 1:1 aid most of his life but still has managed to get away from the most diligent caretaker (including me!). I now have an iphone for him and use the Find Friends app to track him while he is at his program or if he wanders off (which at 21 he still does). However it is very expensive. Luckily he must have a backpack with him at all times (his requirement) so he should normally have his phone with him at all times.

  7. Cheri says:

    This program would be a good start.

    To answer the question about how things compares to average kids that wander. Average kids can wander but when does an average 14 year old not not communication skills? My son’s 12, unable to communicate his address and phone number. I do not know if he ever will.

  8. Mom says:

    I agree that it is important to teach and reteach again when it comes to physical boundaries. Some children with autism have absolutely no fear of situations or people, my son is one of those children for whom no amount of stranger-danger teaching has been effective despite our ongoing efforts over the years to reinforce these critical safety lessons.

    Avonte was 14 years old, and chronologically he should have been able to understand the risks and consequences of leaving the school but developmentally he was not.

    If an IEP states that a child needs to have a 1:1 tech, then it is the school’s responsibility to ensure that the child has that 1:1 coverage while they are in school. An IEP is a legally binding document. Parents attend the IEP meetings but they don’t write the IEP; that is written by the school. If a tech needs a break for lunch, the school must provide coverage for that tech to ensure compliance with the IEP and for safety unless otherwise written.

    THE GPS is an interesting idea, but it is destined to fail. Many children on the spectrum have sensory issues which would prevent them from wearing the monitoring device. More importantly, the children should not need to be tracked, because they should not be allowed to leave school property in the first place.

  9. Genesis says:

    Ditch the tracking devices, have a one-on-one aide help them instead!

  10. jose says:

    WE have a 25 years old autistic son unable to communicate , live in this shoes then ??????
    THANK YOU SEN. Schumer

  11. Carmen says:

    with all due respect. The IEP team means a group of individuals, which includes the parent, described in Title 34 of the Code of Federal Register in §300.321 that is responsible for “developing”, reviewing, or revising an IEP for a child with a disability.

    (Authority: 20 U.S.C. 1414(d)(1)(B))

    Also, it is my understanding, IEPs can also be written for assistance outside of school environment since the intent of the law is to further education, employment and independent living. <this is also in the Act, Rules and Regs. Look up Title 34 of the Code of Federal Regulations. Part 300 is where it starts for children with disabilities.

    I am not an attorney. Just posting for you all to look it all up yourselves.

  12. soricobob says:

    Microchip? How about lower functioning children and adults. But, wait a m inute, didn’t I see a sci-fi movie like this?

  13. Helen Black says:

    As a parent to a child with Down syndrome I have asked for this in my state, as my child use to wander a lot when he was younger, so we put alarms on all our doors and hang on tight to him when in public. It’s not as much of an issue now, but should he leave our home or get separated from us in a public place he would panic and wander looking for us at the age of 11 yrs. This system could be helpful for any child with a disability and elderly who have dementia or Alzheimer’s.

  14. Carmen Allen says:

    As an autistic adult and a parent I understand these concerns. I still say we need to get to the bottom of the wandering or the running away. When I was a child I sometimes wandered. My mother was always concerned when we went to a fair because I was more interested in chasing and petting the loose dogs than the rides, so I would wander away when I saw a dog. At times my wandering or running away was because I was overwhelmed by the environment. I never understood why my siblings jumped and up and down when my parents announced we were going to Disney World. I didn’t look at that as a happy event but one where I would be overwhelmed. And I know some parents are going to get upset with me for saying this but – at times, especially as a young teenager and even as an adult I ran away from the environments, including my own family when I felt the didn’t get it. I would leave for days without so much as a call, because at the time I was so upset I couldn’t talk. I just needed to be away. I got into very dangerous situations because of my running, which some want to call wandering, because they can’t imagine their child would want to get away from them. This happens to other children who are not on the spectrum too but with me it happened a lot. It’s hard to live with parents who think they know you but they don’t understand. My parents were loving parents but they didn’t realize I understood the worries they vocalized about me. How different I was. How worried they were about me not having a normal life compared to my siblings. Sometimes, the wandering is running away because you’re overwhelmed by your environment and that can include your own family. I recognized this with one of my children. He learned the hard way after leaving once and got into a scary situation. We made a deal. As an advocate, I recommend safety plans at school and even home. A place the child picks that they can go to, feel safe and their space is respected. My heart goes out to these children and even adults because I know the feeling of everyone wanting to find you but not realizing how overwhelming the environments we live in are for us. Some of us don’t want to be tracked no matter what our parents think. We have rights even as children and if we worked on getting to the root of the problem it would be better, so we respect the rights of the child too. I know some of you will be offended and I’m sorry. My intent is not to offend but to say the truth, even though some may not want to hear it, about how I felt when some called it wandering when I was a child. It was me disengaging from the environment I was forced to be in to feel comfortable in my own little world where I felt safe. My heart goes out to all of you. I realize how much I worried my parents and even my current family. I wish you all well and that your children be safe.

  15. Paige says:

    @ William – A good majority of autistic kids are non-verbal or have poor social skills. They are more likely not going to know where to go to for help if they are lost, or go up to a stranger or police officer.
    @ Carmen – 1-1 aides are not required by law. I’ve been requesting one for my son for years and get denied. They say it will just call attention to him as being different, as if you cant tell when he is going down the hall with his fingers in his ears…

  16. Joni says:

    I have raised two sons with special needs and a daughter. Due to the epidemic in this country of children who are abducted and used for human trafficking, victims of pedophiles and all of the other horrific things that are done to these innocent human beings it only makes sense to me to chip babies ( optional for parents) We chip our pets to try to keep them safe. I would rather know that if something happens that there would be a way to track their whereabouts within the critical first hours.

  17. maria halpin says:

    How do I apply for a tracking device for my autistic daugher?

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