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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