Voluntary Tracking Devices Proposed for Children with Autism

Senator Charles Schumer has proposed legislation that would fund voluntary tracking devices for children with autism, to address the problem of wandering.

The proposed legislation is called “Avonte’s law,” after Avonte Oquendo, a 14-year-old boy with autism who was found dead after he disappeared from his school in Queens.

The law would increase funding for a Department of Justice program that provides grants to police departments and other groups that allow them to supply tracking devices for people with Alzheimer’s disease. The law would allocate $10 million to expand the program to cover children with autism. The tracking device cost between $80 and $90 to purchase and a few dollars per month to operate. Interested parents would have free access to the devices, which can be sewn into clothing or worn around the wrist.

Use of the devices would be the decision of the parents, and local governments would decide exactly how they would be implemented. The devices can be programmed in different ways, for instance to alert authorities automatically when a child leaves a certain perimeter such as school grounds, or to become activated only when authorities are notified.

Avonte Oquendo disappeared from his school by the Queens waterfront in October. He had no prior history of running away. Due to severe autism, he was not able to communicate verbally, making him more vulnerable to danger. The New York Police Department, along with the boy’s family and volunteers, searched for him by every available means. Bloodhounds were put on the scent, divers searched the East River, and neighbors and subway riders saw the boy’s face on posters and heard announcements regarding his disappearance. His remains were discovered along the East River shoreline in January. DNA testing confirmed the identity of the body, and an investigation continues into the cause of death.

According to Sen. Schumer, the tracking equipment is “a high-tech solution to an age-old problem.” Research indicates that almost 50 percent of children with autism are prone to wandering or bolting, often to get away from noises that overstimulate them. Many are drawn to bodies of water because they seem soothing, which creates a significant drowning risk.

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