After months of searching for missing New York 14 year old Avonte Oquendo, hundreds gathered Saturday in Manhattan for his funeral. On Sunday, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) proposed “Avonte’s law,” a program set to provide GPS trackers to parents of autistic children in the hopes that tragedies like this could be averted in the future.
Avonte, a nonverbal autistic boy, went missing in early October after wandering out of his school in Long Island City, Queens. His mother, Vanessa Fontaine, led a massive search effort that brought together thousands throughout the city, but unfortunately ended tragically early this month when the teen’s remains were found along the shore of the East River near where he was last seen.
The new legislation is set to allocate $10 million through the Department of Justice to provide parents of autistic children free access to GPS devices as a means of lowering location time in the event of wandering cases. “Avonte’s law,” as the legislation is being referred, is an extension of a current Department of Justice program that provides trackers for Alzheimer’s sufferers.
“Avonte’s running away was not an isolated incident,” Schumer said at a news conference Sunday.
The senator elaborated further, citing a study suggesting that nearly 50 percent of autistic children wander off, and GPS trackers are an effective response to an all-too-common threat.
“This is a high-tech solution to an age-old problem,” he said.
The program would be run through local law enforcement agencies, with the onus on them to apply for
funding, bringing the trackers into their communities.
GPS tracking devices can be worn on a wrist, a belt, or sewn into clothes, offering real-time updates as to the child’s location. Special perimeters can even be set and, if breached, can alert a teacher, law enforcement, or the child’s parents via SMS or email. Though the technology is sound, some see other challenges with such a solution.
“[Children with autism] don’t like to wear things. That’s a hurdle to get through,” Fred Volkmar, chief of child psychiatry at Yale University told Al Jazeera America. “They have sensory issues. That’s part of the challenge.”
Still, as support builds for “Avonte’s law,” criticisms of GPS tracking as a solution seem to be set aside in favor of finding some sort of solace in this tragedy.
“There is no medicine to relieve the pain from the loss of a child,” said David Perecman, a lawyer for the Oquendo family. “However, Avonte’s law will make sure that this grave loss and the pain it has wrought will not be vain.”