The U.S. Senate Committee has already cleared a bill for people that are suffering from autism and other developmental disabilities. The bipartisan legislation (also named as Kevin and Avonte’s Law) has been introduced to help safeguard children with autism from wandering. The legislation has recently expanded the existing federal program and decided to distribute tracking devices and meaningful resources to those people who have a tendency to wander. According to the reliable statistics, the autism wandering bill now reauthorizes the existing federal program which assists in locating persons with dementia that wander from safe environments & expands the program in order to include new support for children suffering from developmental disabilities, including ASD or autism spectrum disorder. Therefore, the authority will now develop emerging training and emergency protocols, supply/distribute first responders with additional resources and information, and make local tracking technological programs easily available for those individuals who are the at the risk of wandering.

The U.S. Senate’s Committee has voted to approve this newly-reintroduced autism wandering bill. Next, this reintroduced bill will go before the full Senate for further consideration so that the existing program can be re-designed to better help people with Alzheimer’s disease, autism, and other forms of developmental disabilities.

Kevin and Avonte’s Law is actually named in honor of two school-grade boys with autism that perished after wandering. Kevin Curtis Wills, a nine-year-old kid wandered from his home and drowned in the Raccoon River during 2008.  Similarly, Avonte Oquendo, a fourteen-year-old young boy left his school and subsequently drowned in NY City’s East River during 2014. The feeling of such helpless families when their loved ones with autism or Alzheimer’s go missing is truly unimaginable. But, with the reintroduced and modified version of autism wandering bill, the first responders will be equipped with the adequate training that is necessary to prevent and better respond to such cases. According to Chuck Grassley (a lead sponsor of this new proposal and chair of the honorary judiciary committee), the modified version of Kevin and Avonte’s bill will not only conserve police resources but also it will even save lives.

autism wandering

According to a national survey, around one-third of school-age children with autism have been found to wander away from caregivers. That’s why the bipartisan legislation of Kevin and Avonte’s Law was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate last year. However, both of these two regulatory bodies failed to reconcile the differences between their bills before the session was concluded. The last-minute changes attempting to address some concerns over cost offsets and privacy required the legislation are most likely to return to the Senate. This time, it was proposed that U.S. Department of Justice would receive an amount of $2 million USD annually that could be subsequently used for grants to nonprofit agencies and local law enforcement. Other than that, this funding can be used to buy and supply advanced electronic tracking devices and toolkits to those helpless families where their beloved ones are suffering from chronic and persistent disorders of the mental processes, such as autism, dementia, and Alzheimer’s etc. Alternatively, this funding can be even used for training, notification systems, educations, and all other efforts that can prevent and respond to these situations in a better and efficient way. In the last year, several privacy concerns were voiced. That’s why the legislation now includes language specifying tracking devices where the programs will be non-permanent and non-invasive. And, the procedure to install the device or technology does not create any external/internal marker, for example, microchip and other forms of trackable items.

According to the co-founder of the group (Lori McIlwain), the National Autism Association has documented around 200 wandering cases and 29 deaths. To prevent such unfortunate situations, a revised version of Kevin and Avonte’s Law is needed. And, this newly-proposed autism wandering bill will hopefully bring a positive and meaningful impact on the community. The bill is already cleared by the committee and it will be hopefully enacted this year. However, most members of the law enforcement team are still unaware of how to interact with individuals having autism, how to recognize the symptoms of autism, and where to search. The Arc has supported this legislation and appreciated that the problematic provisions aren’t included in this new bill.