Bill to Track Wandering Children with Autism Finds Way to Senate Floor

Previous versions of the bill were stalled by Republicans over privacy concerns.

In response to a study that shows half of all autistic children wander away from their caretakers, the U.S. Senate Judicial Committee is moving forward with a measure that will allow and fund tracking devices to be placed in children with autism. Under this proposed bill Congress would allocate $2 million for grants to be awarded to local police departments and non-profit organizations as well as funding for education, training and notification systems.

A similar bill was introduced last year, but Republicans were hesitant to move forward due to concerns over privacy. However, this month identical bills introduced by Republican Congressman Chris Smith (N.J.) and Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa) seem to address some of these concerns. According to lawmakers, the latest version of this bill is “non-invasive and non-permanent” and “the procedure to install the technology or device does not create an external or internal marker or implant a device, such as a microchip, or other trackable items.”

With a month to go, 2017 has already seen at least 200 wandering cases and 29 deaths, Lori McIlwain, the co-founder of the National Autism Association, shared with Disability Scoop.

“We’re pleased [the bill] passed in committee and hope to see it enacted this year,” she told the publication. “Most members of law enforcement are still unaware of where to search, how to interact with individuals with autism and how to recognize the signs of autism. We feel the police training aspect of the bill alone will have a positive and meaningful impact on our community.”

The bill is titled Kevin and Avonte’s Law and was created to honor the memory of two boys with autism, Kevin Curtis Wills and Avonte Oquendo. Kevin Curtis was a nine-year-old who drowned after jumping into Iowa’s Raccoon River in 2008. Avonte Oquendo was a 14-year-old who also drowned after wandering from his school in Queens in 2014. According to AngelSense, which creates tracking devices, school districts and police departments across the nation have begun to implement some of these initiatives. However, there is work left to be done, according to a statement from the company: “We, the special needs community, must rally together to bring this severe nationwide problem to the attention of policymakers. We need to ensure that the proper legislation is put in place to eradicate wandering related tragedies.”

Grassley is thrilled that this measure finally has some traction as he alluded to in his official statement: “The bill will make resources available to equip first responders with the training necessary to better prevent and respond to these cases. These activities will help save lives and conserve police resources.”

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  • Every parent I know that has a child with autism is terrified of their child wandering away or getting lost at some point. Thankfully, my son “appears” to have passed his desire to elope or wander away. But I had a few instances where he got away from me. And it was the most terrifying thing in the world. To this day, when I sleep I have special locks on my doors that he can’t reach so that I know he can’t get out of the house and wander away while I’m sleeping.

    I would still not have supported any effort to implant anything in his body. We used AngelSense for a time when he was most prone to run away and not come back or stop when asked. I hope that they do work to implement the training for police officers and that they can agree on a tracking mechanism that is helpful but non-invasive.

  • I would be very hesitant to support this, even though I don’t doubt that there is a need for it, because it is the implementation that worries me. The National Autism Association has partnered up with Autism Speaks several times, and Autism Speaks is a hate group as far as I am concerned. Far too many parents and family members make autism and disabilities about how they are suffering instead of listening directly to those on the autism spectrum. Sadly, those on the autism spectrum are far too often not the experts consulted when it comes to issues that directly affect them, it should be those with disabilities themselves that should be the primary source of expertise.

    I am borderline on the autism spectrum myself, and a female, I went most of my life without realizing it. Wandering off has never been a concern of mine for myself, but there is a very wide spectrum of autistic traits, so I could see how it could be a concern of parents. Actually, it sounds like a potential concern for all parents, kids, the elderly, sleepwalkers, etc. I would rather see an educational effort and support system that targeted wandering off in general, regardless of cause.

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