The Politics of Autism discusses the problem of wandering, which is the topic of legislation before Congress.
In light of the growing number of wandering-related deaths in the autism community, a group of national organizations have come together to support Senate Bill 163, Avonte’s Law. The group, the Autism Safety Coalition (ASC), announced today that its new social media campaign, “Yes to Avonte’s Law,” will also serve to educate the community and the public about the dangers of wandering behaviors in those with autism and other disabilities.
Introduced by Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Avonte’s Law Act of 2015 would help reduce the risk of injury and death relating to wandering behaviors in individuals with autism and other disabilities. “It would provide education, training, and resources to law enforcement agencies, first responders, schools, clinicians, and the public, “ says Lindsay Naeder of Autism Speaks. The law is named after Avonte Oquendo, a 14-year-old boy with autism who vanished from his New York City school in 2013. His body was discovered three months later in the East River.
Wandering behaviors are considered common and short-lived in very young children, but may persist or re-emerge in individuals with cognitive disabilities. According to a 2012 study released by the journal Pediatrics, 49% of children with autism wander/elope from safe supervision. Twenty-nine percent of cases occur from a classroom or school. Tragically, cases involving a child with autism age 9 and younger have ended in death 42% of the time.
“This issue affects all genders, races and ages in the autism and greater disability community,” says Camille Proctor of the Color of Autism Foundation. “Avonte’s Law would help speak for those who may not be able to speak for themselves.”
According to the Autism Safety Coalition, Avonte’s Law would provide many of the same resources already available to prevent wandering and expedite the safe return of those with Alzheimer’s. “It’s a commonsense bill,” says Wendy Fournier of the National Autism Association. “Children and adults with autism and other disabilities frequently wander from safe settings, often with tragic consequences. It’s time for federal action.”
Since the beginning of this month alone, six children with autism have died after wandering from a safe setting in Florida, New Hampshire, Texas, California and Illinois.
“This is happening more than most people realize,” commented Tonia Ferguson of the Autism Society.
To take action on Avonte’s Law or to learn more, visit autismsafetycoalition.org.
Wainie Youn, Autism Society: (301) 657-0881
Nick Galbraith, Autism Speaks: (202) 499-0843
Camille Proctor, The Color of Autism Foundation: (313) 444-9035
Wendy Fournier, National Autism Association: (877) 622-2884
Lisa Wiederlight, Safeminds: (202) 780-9821
Kristen McKiernan, The Arc: (202) 534-3712