Healthy Living

Federal Lawmakers Support Autism with Safety and Wandering Act

Federal Lawmakers Support Autism with Safety and Wandering Act

When children are young, they occasionally wander away from the parents or guardians and into potentially dangerous situations. While this is considered normal behavior for toddlers who are just beginning to gain control of their motor functions, it is usually short-lived, and wandering comes to an end as a toddler ages into childhood. For those with developmental difficulties like autism, these wandering behaviors may persist long past the toddler stage, and may put them continually into dangerous situations.

A little more than one in every four children with developmental disabilities have been found to wander away from safe environments every year. These situations can be terrifying for caregivers, who are already on high-alert in public settings, but who could not possibly keep physical watch on another person at every possible moment. When a child with autism wanders away from home, or wanders away from a safe environment, anything could go wrong.

In 2008, a nine-year-old boy with autism named Kevin Curtis Wills wandered away from his parents and jumped into the Raccoon River near a park in Iowa. Individuals on the autism spectrum are often attracted to water, which in this case led to such a terrible and unimaginable outcome. In 2014, a fourteen-year-old with autism named Avonte Oquendo left school and was found drowned in New York City’s East River. Their deaths were horrible, and brought it to lawmakers’ attention that something had to be done about the issue of wandering in those with developmental disabilities.

New legislation

In 2016, federal legislators proposed a bill called S. 2614 which was made to address the problem of wandering and protect those with developmental disabilities from encountering similar fates. The bill has been officially supported by the Autism Safety Coalition, which is comprised of several autism activist groups. The bipartisan bill passed by a landslide, with a 346-66 margin, and was named “Kevin and Avonte’s Law” in honor of the two boys who passed away after wandering.

Grant funding for law enforcement officers

When a child goes missing, the first people to know other than the parents are the police. Law enforcement officers are the first responders in almost every emergency situation, and are trained to be able to respond to any potential threat or circumstance. This training can only go so far in working with people with developmental disabilities such as autism. People with autism have different tendencies and abilities than those who develop normally, and law enforcement needs to be prepared to face these differences.

Kevin and Avonte’s Law works by allowing the Department of Justice to grant funding to law enforcement agencies and nonprofit organizations so that law enforcement personnel can best prevent and respond to cases of wandering individuals with developmental disabilities. The need for training and a working understanding of developmental disabilities in the police force is huge. Cases of accidental mistreatment at the hands of law enforcement officers are prevalent in individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities.

Read on to learn more about Kevin and Avonte's Law.