Nearly half of children on the autism spectrum are believed to engage in wandering, a behavior that can end in tragedy. The U-S Senate is considering a bill known as Avonte’s Law, which would provide funding for police departments to purchase equipment that can help locate people with autism who go missing.
Wendy Fournier with the National Autism Association says those with autism typically wander to something of interest, or they flee an overwhelming environment, “Noises, lights and people and hearing five different conversations at the same time. That kind of stuff can be magnified for people on the spectrum. A lot of times the only thing they can do is run away. That’s the only way they can get any relief from that sensory overload.”
Fournier says due to challenges with communication and safety awareness, children or adults with autism can end up in dangerous situations when they wander. According to the Autism Society of North Carolina, the prevalence rate of autism in North Carolina is higher than the national average and stands at one out of every 58 children – versus one in 68 nationally.
Avonte’s Law is named after a 14-year-old with autism whose body was discovered in a river three months after he ran away from his New York City school. Fournier says the legislation also calls for training for law enforcement agencies to better recognize and respond to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, “It’s really easy for a person with a communication disorder to come across as being uncooperative to the police so the police really need some training to start recognizing autism and other cognitive disorders.”
Fournier says parents are encouraged to implement measures that can prevent wandering, including security alerts on doors and ID bracelets or tracking devices for their child. She says swimming lessons are also crucial, “About 90 percent of the kids who die following a wandering incident die from drowning. Our kids are very, very attracted to water. So we recommend that everybody teach their child, make sure they know how to swim.”
April is Autism Awareness Month.