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Senator proposes 'Avonte's law' to track autistic children using GPS

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Avonte MTA
Avonte MTA

Democratic Senator Charles Schumer will today formally introduce legislation that would allow law enforcement agencies to track children with autism using GPS devices. Schumer dubbed the proposed legislation "Avonte's law," named for Avonte Oquendo. Oquendo, who suffered from severe autism, disappeared from his school in Queens last October. His remains were found in the East River earlier this month.

Oquendo's mother, Vanessa Fontaine, stood beside Schumer as he unveiled the proposed legislation on Sunday. The voluntary scheme would see children with autism wearing GPS trackers in belts, shoelaces, or even sewn into clothes. In Oguendo's case, New York police and volunteers had to resort to unconventional methods in an attempt to find the child in a months-long search that included playing his mother's voice from truck-mounted loudspeakers. According to WABC-TV News, the new trackers would reduce the time it takes to find a child by 95 percent.

The voluntary program would see children with autism wearing GPS trackers

The traits that characterize autism also mean autistic children have an increased chance of getting lost. Studies have shown that children with autism are four times more likely to flee from safe environments such as school or their homes than non-autistic siblings. In 2011, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention designated "wandering" as a "potentially life-threatening" aspect of autism-spectrum disorders, a danger compounded by the fact that one-third of children with autism are non-verbal and unable to explain their situation or request help.

Avonte's law — called "a great solution" by Michael Rosen, executive vice president of autism advocacy group Autism Speaks — is modeled after an Alzheimer's program that gives grants to organizations that search for missing patients. Schumer reportedly expects the legislation, which will cost around $10 million, will pass within a few months. "We know how to do it. We've seen it done. It works," the senator says. "All that's standing in the way is funding."