I’m not even going to mince words here. I don’t think the New York City Public School System is equipped to handle kids with autism.
Two weeks ago, 14-year-old Avonte Oquendo, ran out of his Queens school and has been missing since. Avonte is autistic and non-verbal. His school is a District 75 school and shares a space with a “typical” school. On the day that Avonte walked out of his school, a security guard asked Avonte where he was going. When he didn’t answer (because he’s non-verbal), the guard let Avonte go, assuming he was “one of the regular kids.”
Autism is an invisible disability and it’s easy for many autistic kids to pass for “regular.” But when there is a population of kids with autism in the same building as “typical” kids, there needs to be training and awareness. Everyone in the building needs to understand what autism is and what it ‘looks’ like. If the Department of Education is not prepared to do that, then maybe they should start creating public schools exclusively for kids with autism and/or special needs.
The school was also aware that Avonte was a runner and in need of “constant supervision.” There is surveillance video of Avonte walking through the school alone and running out of the building. It was also reported that the school waited an hour before notifying Avonte’s mother, Vanessa Fontaine, that her son was missing. When Dennis Walcott (Education Chancellor) was asked about how this could happen, his answer was evasive and Police Commissioner, Raymond Kelly, doesn’t believe the security guard did anything wrong. This should have never happened. Avonte should’ve never been left unattended and he shouldn’t have been able to run out of the school. The public school system failed Avonte and they need to be held accountable.