The federal government would pay for GPS tracking devices for autistic children under legislation proposed Sunday by Sen. Chuck Schumer and named for a Queens boy who wandered away from his school three months ago and was found dead in a city river.
“Avonte’s Law,” named for 14-year-old Avonte Oquendo, would provide $10 million to pay for the high-tech device that could be worn on the wrist, kept in a wallet or sewn into clothing.
Avonte walked away from his school in October and his body was found in the East River last week. Investigators are still trying to determine how he died.
“We can’t change the past, but we can take necessary steps to ensure we learn from this and put in place programs that will ensure that no parent and no child has to go through a similar nightmare in the future,” Schumer said at a news conference in his Manhattan office, joined by Avonte’s mother, Vanessa Fontaine, and grandmother Doris McCoy.
About half of autistic children are prone to wandering, according to research published in 2012 in the journal Pediatrics. This led to the deaths of more than 60 autistic children since 2008. About 90 percent of them in recent years were by drowning, according to the National Autism Association.
Advocates for families have made it a priority to increase awareness of wandering. The study found that half of parents of autistic children never received guidance on how to cope with wandering. Experts recommend precautions, including ID bracelets or tracking devices.
Schumer plans to introduce the legislation on Monday.
The program would resemble one that Schumer said has successfully kept track of people with Alzheimer’s disease using a computer-programmed alert system. That program signals police departments when someone wearing the device leaves a place where they are supposed to be.
Each device costs about $85, plus a few dollars in monthly fees, the senator said, adding that hundreds of families with autistic children already have used privately funded tracking devices.
Michael Rosen, executive director of Autism Speaks, attended the conference with his 26-year-old autistic son, Nicky who, Rosen said, “would race across the street … and … end up all of a sudden tearing apart their living room, or he’d be across the street on a roof because he was attracted to heights. You can’t turn your back for one second.”