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Has everyone forgotten about Avonte?

It would be hard for most parents to imagine sending your child to school, and hours later receiving a call that he or she was not at school and no one had any explanation—your child had simply gone missing. This is exactly what happened to parents of Avonte Oquenedo,14. He was last seen on school security cameras on October 4, 2013 running away from his Long Island School.

The profoundly autistic teenager’s disappearance set off a three month search that spread from New York to New Jersey and even social media. Sadly, after three months, Oquenedo’s remains were found on College Point beach in Queens.

Danny Oquenedo recently wrote a blog on the Autism Speaks website to express his family’s gratitude to all those who were involved in the search for his brother. In the blog he writes, “The community came together for a common cause in such an unparalleled way that it renewed my faith in the kindness of humanity.” While he praises the city of New York for their support during his family’s time of anguish, he also asks that his brother’s death not be in vain.
Proper staffing, security, and necessary precautions could have prevented Oquenedo’s heartbreaking elopement from his school.

Elopement can be described as a child with autism straying from a caregiver, teacher, or group, without supervision. Children who have disabilities, specifically autism spectrum disorders are often prone to elope for various reasons. They may have adverse reactions to certain aspects of their environment or they may even be dealing with other issues that they are unable to communicate to the people around them.
Proper staffing, security, and necessary precautions could have prevented Oquenedo’s heartbreaking elopement from his school.

Shortly after the funeral for Avonte, Senator Charles E. Shumer proposed “Avonte’s Law”. This law would finance a system that would provide electronic tracking devices to students with autism spectrum disorders in New York.
With lawmakers doing their part to provide a solution to the issue of elopement, it begs the question: How does a classroom staff lose track of a student? Not a set of keys or a ball point pen, but a living, breathing teenage boy. Studies report that nearly fifty percent of children with autism elope, so shouldn’t caregivers be prepared and thoroughly trained to deal with and prevent this problem?

Avonte’s elopement is just one terribly upsetting example of a problem that is increasing across the United States in schools that service students with special needs. Not only should the city step up and deliver some sort of legislation that will aid in this issue, but those who fail to provide the support, care, and supervision that they were hired to should also be taken to task and held responsible for their gross negligence.

What are your thoughts?

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