"One of the best decisions I had ever made"
- Joseph Lugo
New York schools have recently started training paraprofessionals on how to handle their autistic students. This training is in response to the concerted efforts of the Department of Education to spread awareness of the obstacles autistic individuals face.
Paraprofessionals play an integral role in autistic children’s education. Often, they work directly with autistic students. However, they usually receive little training compared to private therapists. To address this shortcoming, schools such as Brooklyn’s Public School 396 provided training where paraprofessionals learned how to interact with autistic students more effectively. One activity the aides engaged in was learning three things with a partner, but the partner could not speak. This allowed the individuals to understand what it is like for some autistic students, many of whom are mute.
This training emerges in response to the tragedy involving 14-year-old Avonte Oquendo. Oquendo was an autistic student who escaped from school one day. His mother had allegedly alerted the school of her son’s tendency to run around. Oquendo slipped out of school on October 4, 2013. A few months later, authorities found his body.
David H. Perecman is representing Oquendo’s mother, Vanessa Fontaine. Together, they are seeking justice on behalf of Fontaine’s late son. They also want to bring awareness to the dangers of not addressing the needs of autistic children.
This year, in light of Oquendo’s death, New York City passed Avonte’s Law. This new legislature requires NY schools to install alarms on doors and provide training for autistic pupils. In June of this year, the New York Department of Education declared they would place 21,000 audible alarms on the doors of New York City schools.
The training provided in school adheres to Avonte’s Law. However, according to Perecman, while the training and alarms help highlight the struggles of autistic students, it cannot alleviate Fontaine’s pain of losing a son.