Chase Dias, who has autism, stands in the field he wandered into in 2005 when he was 2. Advocates are pushing for federal legislation to address wandering among children with the developmental disorder. (Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
Several disability advocacy groups are banding together to call for federal action to help prevent wandering among those with autism and other developmental disabilities.
Dubbed the Autism Safety Coalition, the collective launched this week includes Autism Speaks, the Autism Society, The Arc and the National Autism Association, among others.
Research suggests that about half of children with autism have a tendency to bolt, and 42 percent of such cases involving children under age 9 have ended in death, the coalition said. In June alone, the groups indicated that six children with autism have died after wandering from a safe place.
The newly-formed coalition is launching a social media campaign to promote wandering awareness and is putting its weight behind federal legislation known as Avonte’s Law. The bill would provide funding to law enforcement agencies for wandering prevention efforts and allocate federal dollars to offer free electronic tracking devices to children with autism and other developmental disabilities who are prone to bolting.
The legislation is named for Avonte Oquendo, a 14-year-old with autism who went missing in 2013 from his New York City school. His remains were discovered months later.
“It’s a common sense bill,” said Wendy Fournier, president of the National Autism Association, who indicated that the legislation would offer many of the same resources to the disability community that are already provided to those affected by Alzheimer’s disease.
“Children and adults with autism and other disabilities frequently wander from safe settings, often with tragic consequences. It’s time for federal action,” Fournier said.
U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., first proposed Avonte’s Law last year and most recently introduced the legislation in January, but so far the bill has failed to gain traction in Congress.
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