By Tonya Johnson
Today it is rare to see a piece of bipartisan legislation making its way through Congress. However, that is precisely the case for H.R. 4221, also known as Kevin and Avonte’s Law. The law will provide resources to help families with children on the autism spectrum who wander away from safety. Chuck Grassley and Chuck Schumer, who introduced the Senate version of the bill, hailed it as an Amber Alert-style mechanism for autistic kids.
In 2008, nine-year-old Kevin Curtis Wills slipped away from home and fell into Iowa’s Raccoon River and drowned. In 2014, a fourteen-year-old named Avonte Oquendo, who loved to run, bolted out the door of his school on a sunny day in early October and was found three months later in New York’s East River.
Sadly, Autism Speaks reports that 49% of children on the autism spectrum are likely to wander away from safe places like school or home. Given autism affects one in sixty-eight school-age children, this roaming behavior is not as rare of an occurrence as it would seem.
If enacted, technically, Kevin and Avonte’s Law would “amend the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 and reauthorize the Missing Alzheimer’s Disease Patient Alert Program.
Specifically, what it does is adds resources and supports for community tools and training to prevent children on the spectrum from wandering and enables better responses and outcomes if they do. The help comes in the form of Justice Department grants going to local law enforcement and non-profits that facilitates training and emergency protocols for school personnel, supplies first responders with additional resources, and makes locating technology programs available for individuals who may wander from safety.
Personally, what it does is give families in the autism community peace of mind.
Kevin and Avonte’s Law passed the Senate in December of 2017. It is currently making its way through the House. This legislation is an opportunity for everyone to come together in a non-partisan way to help families living with autism.
Contact your congressional representative and urge them to support Kevin and Avonte’s Law. Find your rep here.
For more information about autism or for resources, visit Autism Speaks.