In the Press...
Dec. 3 Asbury Park Press letter to the editor on Smith autism bill***'Bill would protect children with autism'
The following is a letter to the editor by Dr. Suzanne Buchanan, the Executive Director of the advocacy group, Autism New Jersey based in Robbinsville, NJ:
As Congress reconvenes to finish the year, we urge our representatives in the House of Representatives and Senate to support the passage of Kevin and Avonte’s Law (H.R. 4919/S. 2614), which would allow Justice Department grants to help protect children with developmental disabilities, such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and seniors with Alzheimer’s, who are prone to wandering.
This legislation would make grants available to law enforcement agencies and nonprofits to provide training to prevent wandering and implement lifesaving technology, such as law enforcement’s Project Lifesaver program, to find individuals who have wandered. Introduced by longtime autism community champion and founder/chair of the Congressional Autism Caucus, Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey, this sensible legislation is of critical importance to the autism community in particular.
Wandering or elopement is one of the most concerning challenging behaviors for individuals with ASD. This behavior presents safety risks including drowning, getting struck by traffic, falling from a high place, dehydration, hypothermia, abduction and victimization. In recent years, accidental drowning after wandering or eloping accounted for 91 percent of total U.S. deaths reported in children with ASD ages 14 and younger. Due to the growing prevalence of autism in New Jersey and the potential dangers associated with elopement, training to prevent wandering and the widespread implementation of lifesaving technology is critical.
In November, there were two stories about how significant an issue this is for our community:
On Nov. 4, the Bergen County Sheriff's Office reported an 8-year-old boy with autism wandered off from his family in Overpeck County Park. Shortly after he was reported missing, he was found in the Overpeck Creek by law enforcement after a bystander called 911. He was, thankfully, revived and treated. The family had reported their son missing via Bergen County’s Project Lifesaver Program.
Just days later, a 4-year-old boy was pronounced dead after wandering from the family home and drowning in the family’s backyard swimming pool in Pennsville, Salem County.
Like the children for whom this legislation is named, these two New Jersey boys represent how important this legislation is to assist our community in preventing future tragedies – tragedies that are still all too common. Rep. Smith’s legislation is a step toward helping to ensure the safety of individuals with autism is protected, and we encourage our representative in Washington support its passage.
For more information about elopement, wandering and available resources, please contact Autism New Jersey’s Helpline at 800-4-AUTISM or download our free publication, “Elopement & Wandering: Your Guide to Safety Resources.”
Dr. Suzanne Buchanan