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Critical safety legislation passes U.S. Senate

July 15, 2016

The U.S. Senate yesterday passed S. 2614, Kevin and Avonte's Law, legislation that would help safeguard children with autism or other developmental disabilities from wandering. According to a recent national survey, a third of school-age children with autism had wandered away from caregivers. 

Kevin and Avonte’s Law is named in honor of two boys with autism who perished after wandering. Nine-year-old Kevin Curtis Wills wandered from home and drowned in Iowa’s Raccoon River in 2008.  Fourteen year-old Avonte Oquendo left his school and drowned in New York City’s East River in 2014.  

The legislation was introduced in the U.S. Senate by a bipartisan group of Senators that included Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa, and Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina. Representative Chris Smith, co-chair of the Congressional Autism Caucus, and Representative Maxine Waters have introduced a companion bill in the U.S House of Representatives. 

“The feeling of dread and helplessness families must feel when a loved one with Alzheimer’s or autism goes missing is unimaginable.  But with the Senate’s approval of Kevin and Avonte’s Law, we are one important step closer to increasing the chances of a positive ending to many of these nightmares.  This bipartisan bill applies proven community alert systems to help locate people with Alzheimer’s, dementia, autism and related disorders who may be susceptible to wandering away from safety. It also supports training for first responders and other community officials to better prevent and respond to these cases," said Grassley said at the bills passing. He added, “By preventing similar tragedies in the future, we can honor the lives of Kevin, Avonte and others who lost their lives because a medical condition caused them to wander from safety.  That’s exactly what this bill aims to do,” 

Kevin and Avonte's Law would allow Justice Department grants to be used by law enforcement agencies and nonprofits for educational and other programs. The grants would facilitate training and emergency protocols for school personnel, supply first responders with additional information and resources, and make locating technology programs available for individuals who may wander from safety.    

“We sincerely thank the champions of Kevin and Avonte’s law in the U.S. Senate who worked tirelessly to pass this legislation aimed at protecting individuals who may wander from safety,” said Angela Geiger, president and CEO of Autism Speaks, “Protecting our loved ones is a crucial issue for our community and we look forward to advocating for this legislation in the House of Representatives to fully empower communities to prevent wandering and locate loved ones who may be missing.”