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Safety in the Schools for those with Autism

January 16, 2014: College Point - (Near Powell's Cove Blvd): Police find evidence of what could be Avonte Oquendo, the boy who's face has become familiar to the nation. This time it's not about an autistic teen scoring basketball or football points, nor for any other talent, except one for running. A common characteristic in children and teens diagnosed with autism. Once the autopsy is performed and the DNA testing is done, only then will be confirmed.

Is it true that according that one source, "there were three people with Avonte and still he ran" from the school that sunny October day? Whether there were aides and professionals and security/safety officers with Avonte on that very day and at that crucial moment - in this security camera video he is in the hallway of the school...alone! He is then seen running out of the door of the Riverview School and down the sidewalk of Long Island City.

If you are a parent of a child with autism who attends school, you know the panic that hits when the school calls to say he has "eloped". When the call comes in what parents really hear is 'we allowed your son to develop a pattern of running and then being returned. Sometimes he even gets as far as the street corner'. Yes, running and autism go hand-in-hand. However it's a behavior. And as the behaviorists tell us there's the ABC's - Antecedent, Behavior and Consequence. They say all behaviors can be corrected. Well, in the daily reality of a world that they themselves may not live in, called autism, not all behaviors will be corrected. Instead, parents and families learn to be vigilant. We watch our kids for clues through their body language, what their eyes are telling us and what their surroundings are for sensory bombardment.

Avonte was just doing what all kids with autism do. They want to get away from the microscope that they are viewed under with every single move they make from the time they wake up until the time they go to bed, they are scrutinized, discussed, 'managed', cried over, prayed over, and stressed over. They may have autism but they still have the same wants and needs as other children their age. They have intense likes, such as trains and water. These kids will always be drawn to them especially when they have just spent a beautiful sunny day inside a building that has loud echoes, people touching them and smells and sights that bombard their sensory system.

Avonte's mother was quoted in one source as saying "She wasn't surprised". That does not mean by any stretch she is accepting of this or that it's okay. She, like any other parent would do, is pursuing legal action. We in the autism world need to stand by her and raise action every single time one of our children's safety is compromised. No more. The last child I reported on was a little kindergarten who was kept in an underground room by the school bus driver! And to fault three aides is not the answer either. These professions earn minimum wage.

The answer here is despite all the "awareness" we have done, it's not helping. We don't need to become more 'aware' of autism, nor to just 'accept', because quite honestly we parents don't care if our child passes someone else's acceptance standards. We want more action. Go to or for more information on how YOU can not only be a part of finding the next child or teen with autism alive and well, but how to prevent it in the first place.

(Thank you to the HuffPost Live for the video clip published in October, 2013)

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