April is Autism Awareness Month. Autism organizations throughout the world use this month to educate the public about autism and to raise money for autism research and awareness. One important issue impacting many with autism is wandering.
Wandering is the term to used to describe the event when a person with autism leaves a safe, supervised area like a workplace, school or home. When people with autism wander they can end up in dangerous situations. Nearly half of children on the autism spectrum are believed to engage in wandering, a behavior that can and does sometime end in tragedy.
On October 4, 2013, a 14-year-old nonverbal boy with autism went missing. Avonte Oquendo wandered from his Long Island City, Queens school and three months later his body was found along the East River. In August 2014, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a new measure, known as Avonte’s Law. The bill requires alarms to be installed on the outside doors of all elementary schools, and other buildings serving students with special needs where the Department of Education and NYPD find that they would boost safety.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) reintroduced this bill on January 19, 2015. Now, the U.S. Senate is considering a bill known as Avonte’s Law that would provide funding for law enforcement agencies and other qualified organizations for education and resources, including voluntary tracking devices that can help locate people with autism who wander and go missing.
Wendy Fournier, president of the National Autism Association, said parents are encouraged to implement measures that help prevent children with autism from going missing, including security alerts on doors and ID bracelets or tracking devices. She said swimming lessons also are critical. Autistic children are attracted to water.
“About 90 percent of the kids who die following a wandering incident die from drowning,” she said.
Autism statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identify one in 68 children will be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Autism is almost five times more common among boys than girls. An estimated 1 out of 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls are diagnosed with autism in the United States.
The first National Autism Awareness Month was declared by the Autism Society in April 1970. In 2007, the United Nations designated April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day.