Attorney General Eric Holder, at a Congressional hearing held January 29, announced that the Department of Justice will provide funding for tracking devices for children with autism or other disabilities that put them as risk of wandering.
The move comes in response to the case of Avonte Oquendo, a 14-year-old with autism who walked out of his school in Queens on October 4. Despite a massive, city-wide search, he was not found until earlier in January, when he was confirmed dead after his body was found alongside the East River. The cause of his death is still under investigation.
On January 26, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) held a press conference introducing “Avonte’s Law,” which would provide federal funding for GPS trackers to prevent similar tragedies in the future. Although Schumer said he would continue pushing for “Avonte’s Law,” in order to provide a more stable funding stream for the devices, he praised the DOJ’s decision.
“The sights and sounds of NYC and other busy places can be over-stimulating and distracting for children and teens with Autism, often leading to wandering as a way to escape,” Sen. Schumer said in a news release.” Voluntary tracking devices will help our teachers and parents in the event that the child runs away and, God forbid, goes missing.”
The program will come from an existing DOJ funding stream that provides tracking devices for monitoring people with Alzheimer’s.
To obtain the devices, parents will have to register with their local police department and other law enforcement agencies.
“Investments in tracking devices and other support systems are critical to the safety and well-being of individuals affected by autism,” said Liz Feld, president of Autism Speaks, in the news release. “Attorney General Holder’s statement is an important step in the broader effort to educate and raise awareness about the issue of wandering within the autism community. We are encouraged by his commitment as we all work to ensure that Avonte Oquendo did not die in vain.”