Sen. Charles Schumer unveiled legislation on Sunday that would provide law enforcement agencies a means for a tracking program for children with autism. NY1's Mahsa Saeidi filed the following report.
Hoping to protect other kids with autism, Vanessa Fontaine stood quietly beside Sen. Charles Schumer Sunday as he unveiled "Avonte's Law," just 24 hours after she buried her 14 year-old son, Avonte Oquendo, who disappeared from his Queens public school on October 4. Despite a massive citywide search, Avonte wasn't found in time.
"We know he left school, but the question that we seek to answer is why," said David Perecman, the Oquendo family attorney. "What were the mistakes that were made, and how do we fix them?"
Schumer offered a simple solution Sunday: place GPS devices on the belts, shoelaces or wristwatches, for example, of children with autism, some of whom do not speak, so that unlike Avonte, they can be quickly located and returned to safety if they flee.
The voluntary tracking program would be paid for by the Department of Justice and run by local police departments.
It's modeled after the current Alzheimer's program that awards competitive grants to organizations that help search for missing patients.
"We know how to do it. We've seen it done. It works," Schumer said. "All that's standing in the way is funding. Most people can't afford it or don't know about it."
"Forty-nine percent of all children with autism wander. One-third of them are non-verbal," said Michael Rosen, executive vice president of Autism Speaks. "Can you imagine being lost and not being able to talk? It's just, it's something that needs to be dealt with right away, and this is a great solution."
For Rosen, increasing autism awareness is a personal matter. His 26-year-old son Nicky has the diagnosis.
"Nicky would end up across the street, on roofs of other houses when he was young, because he didn't understand danger," Rosen said. "Eventually, we had to put locks on the top of every door in the house. And that's how families with autism live. You can't turn your back for one second."
Schumer said the program will cost about $10 million. He will formally introduce the legislation Monday, and he expects that it will pass within a few months.