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Avonte’s Law

  • Posted on January 29, 2014 at 10:00 AM

It’s a tragic story that fills the hearts of parents of children with autism with terror. A child was safely at school—until he wasn’t. He wandered away—nobody stopped him. He disappeared—nobody found him. His body turned up months later—without the life that went with it.

My heart goes out to the family and friends of Avonte Oquendo. I pray for their healing, for their comfort, and for the soul of Avonte. I pray to God that my children don’t face a similar fate. I pray that my children and the many others like them will be safe in school, at home, and wherever else they may go.

In the aftermath of Avonte’s disappearance and death, Senator Charles E. Schumer proposes “Avonte’s Law,” which will provide federal funding for voluntary tracking devices for children with autism—similar to a program used for people with Alzheimer’s. In theory, the devices would help people to locate missing children more quickly—before harm can come to them.

My husband and I had both paid attention to the disappearance of Avonte and how he was eventually found. My husband was the one who first heard of the proposed law. We’ve discussed it among ourselves. I want to share some of our conclusions with you.

In theory, these devices will protect children. In theory, the devices will make children more secure, because technology will make it easier to locate children recognized as vulnerable. In practice, we fear, technology can be hacked. In practice, we fear, there are people who are motivated to find vulnerable children to fulfill their own sick pleasures. In practice, we fear, these devices may make children targets—even more so than they already are—to people with criminal intent.

What is more likely: a child will wander away and the device will be used to find the child before it’s too late or a criminal will hack the device to locate a child at a moment of vulnerability and either ransom or harm the child? I don’t know, but I don’t like either scenario. We live in a dangerous world. We live in a world where technology can be used for good and for evil. We experience both on a regular basis. In such a world, are there any good answers?