Senator says program would be strictly voluntary
By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
It’s a case that is every parent’s nightmare. Avonte Oquendo, the 14-year-old autistic boy who walked out of his Long Island City school and hasn’t been seen since, has been officially missing for more than a month.
But what if Avonte was wearing a tracking device?
That’s the tantalizing idea being put forth by Sen. Charles Schumer, who called on the US Department of Justice to create a program that would provide voluntary tracking devices for children who have Autism or other developmental disorders in which “bolting” from parents or caregivers is common.
The operative word here is “voluntary,” according to Schumer.
“The sights and sounds of New York City and other busy places can be over-stimulating and distracting for children and teens with Autism, often leading to wandering as a way to escape. Voluntary tracking devices will help our teachers and parents in the event that the child runs away and, God forbid goes missing,” Schumer said.
There is a precedent for such a program, Schumer said. The federal government already has a program to track senior citizens with Alzheimer’s disease.
The Wall Street Journal reported in July that the Dept. of Justice also released a training video that was distributed to law enforcement agencies around the country aimed at assisting officers in searching for missing Alzheimer’s patients.
Schumer said that what he wants is for the tracking program currently in use for Alzheimer’s patients to be extended to include children with Autism and other disorders.
The tracking program would be run by the local police department.
Schumer has written a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder requesting that the Dept. of Justice award grants to local law enforcement agencies that want to start voluntary tracking programs for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ADS) and other disabilities.
“It has come to my attention that the Department of Justice has awarded grants in the past to organizations that assist with missing or disappeared individuals with Alzheimer’s disease. I would ask that the Department of Justice also look into awarding these types of funds to local law enforcement agencies or organizations if the parents of children with ASD decide that they would like to use these individual tracking devices and/or consult with trained specialists like those at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children so that they are better equipped to handle scenarios that involve missing children with ASD,” Schumer wrote.
“DOJ already funds these devices for individuals with Alzheimer’s and they should do the same for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Funding this program will help put school systems and parents of children and teens with Autism at ease knowing where their children are," Schumer said.
The tracking devices can be worn as wristwatches, anklets, or clipped onto belt loops or onto shoelaces. When users of the device are missing, the caregiver/school system would notify the device company and a trained emergency team would respond to the area.