Tag Archives: Autism Speaks

Avonte Oquendo’s brother shares family’s experience, thanks volunteers in blog post


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

File Photo

One of Avonte Oquendo’s older brothers is sharing what his family went through in the four months during the 14-year-old’s disappearance.

“Every minute we spent in the dark about the whereabouts felt like years of torture,” wrote Daniel Oquendo Jr. in a March 21 blog post for the advocacy organization Autism Speaks.

He recounted the fear and pain his family felt as they tried to find Avonte, who was autistic and could not verbally communicate. He described how during the first few days the family did not sleep, barely ate and felt as if they had nowhere to turn.

The teen was last seen at the Center Boulevard School in Long Island City across the street from the East River last October. Almost four months later his remains were found washed up in College Point.

According to Oquendo, Avonte entered a frightened and panic state after running out of his school and possibly jumped into the East River and drowned. The medical examiner has ruled the cause and manner of Avonte’s death as undetermined.

Oquendo wrote that as his family was “overcome with grief and hopelessness,” they turned to the people of New York City to work together and gather volunteers to search for Avonte. As word began to spread, they encountered help through New Yorkers and out of state volunteers, who he thanked for all their dedication and prayers.

“It turns out that before it was all said and done Avonte did indeed become the beloved son of the city,” Oquendo wrote.

 

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Op-ed: Let’s be their voice


| oped@queenscourier.com

U.S. SENATOR CHARLES SCHUMER

The heartbreak and agony that Avonte  Oquendo’s family has had to endure is one that I can’t even begin to imagine. Over the course of the past few months, Avonte became more than just a face on a missing poster. New Yorkers came together to search for Avonte and pray for his safe return; we felt like he was a child we knew personally. While we cannot change the past, we must take the necessary steps to prevent this from happening again—and that’s why I am introducing “Avonte’s Law.”

Avonte’s running away was not an isolated incident; running away or wandering among children and teens with Autism Spectrum Disorder is more common than one may think. In fact, nearly half of children with autism over the age of four have attempted to wander. Often times, these children wander due to being over-stimulated by loud noises or bright lights – something that is a particular challenge for children with autism in New York City.

I recently met with Vanessa Fontaine and Doris McCoy, Avonte’s mother and grandmother, as well as Michael Rosen, the Executive Vice President of Autism Speaks. Mr. Rosen shared personal stories about his son, Nicky, who has autism and is nonverbal. He spoke about Nicky’s experience with wandering. I listened intently when Mr. Rosen said that Nicky once ran out of the house and made his way into the neighbor’s living room to watch Disney movies—a fascination of Nicky’s. Thankfully, Nicky was found safe.

Our children are too precious for us to wait another day when life-saving technology and precautionary measures are right at our fingertips. Technology such as GPS or Radio Frequency(RF) tracking is on the market now, and they allow parents, schools and law enforcement to locate a child if he or she wanders or goes missing. The Department of Justice runs a very successful program that provides tracking devices to individuals with Alzheimer’s disease who have similar wandering tendencies. So, after Avonte went missing, I urged the Department of Justice to use their existing grant funds to allow children with autism access to these life-saving tracking devices – this past week, they did just that.

The program would be completely voluntary for parents, but it would be a major stress reliever for the thousands of parents of children with autism. Most importantly, though, this technology has the power to save lives.

That is why when the world learned of the tragic fate of Avonte Oquendo, I drafted legislation that will create a permanent program with dedicated federal funding to provide tracking devices for children with autism, as well as training and education for parents and communities. The legislation, “Avonte’s Law,” will allow Avonte’s memory to live on while helping to prevent any more children with autism from going missing.

Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Department of Justice will allow existing DOJ grant funds to be used for children with autism. This is terrific news, as it means that localities can soon put federal funds towards these life-saving tracking devices as well as education for law enforcement that deal with this issue on a daily basis. This is a major step in the right direction, and I will continue to work on this very important issue until “Avonte’s Law” is passed, which would provide a more solid stream of funding to help children across New York and the rest of the country.

We must be the voice of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Schumer was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1998. Following the elections of 2006, Majority Leader Harry Reid appointed him to serve as Vice Chair of the Democratic Conference, the number three position on the Democratic Leadership team and a position he continues to hold. In 2009, Schumer was selected as the Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, which oversees federal elections, voting rights, campaign finance, and the operation of the Senate complex. He also sits on the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs; the Judiciary Committee, where he is Chairman of the Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees, and Border Security; the Joint Economic Committee, where he is the Vice Chairman; and the Joint Committee on the Library.

 

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Senator Charles Schumer introduces ‘Avonte’s Law’


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Senator Charles Schumer's Office

A day after autistic teen Avonte Oquendo was laid to rest, one politician announced legislation that could help prevent a similar tragedy from happening.

Avonte, 14, was last seen at the Center Boulevard School in Long Island City on October 4 when he ran out of the school. Almost four months later his remains were found washed up in College Point.

There have been conflicting reports on how the Rego Park teen, who cannot verbally communicate and is supposed to be supervised at all times, managed to leave the school.

Senator Charles Schumer announced Sunday he will be introducing a bill called “Avonte’s Law” which will create and fund a program providing voluntary tracking devices and increase support services for families of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or any other developmental conditions in which bolting is common. The program would only include children whose parents choose to use the devices.

“The tragic end to the search for Avonte Oquendo clearly demonstrated that we need to do more to protect children with autism who are at risk of running away,” said Schumer. “Thousands of families face the awful reality each and every day that their child with autism may run away. Making voluntary tracking devices available will help put parents at ease, and most importantly, help prevent future tragedies like Avonte’s.”

The bill would create a new grant program within the Department of Justice allowing the agency to award funds to local law enforcement agencies or organizations wanting to provide tracking devices for children with Autism. The funds would also help provide training and other resources to schools allowing them to be prepared to react to a situation like Avonte’s.

The new program would be modeled from the federal program already being used to help track seniors with Alzheimer’s.

“Avonte’s Law” will authorize $10 million in federal money to purchase the voluntary tracking devices and training for parents, schools and local law enforcement. The program would be run by the police department or other local law enforcement and would provide training on how to use and maintain the devices. 

The tracking devices could be worn as non-tampering wristwatches, anklets or be clipped onto belt loops or shoelaces. The devices could also be woven into specially designed clothing.

“The tragic fate of Avonte Oquendo hit home with parents in New York and across the country,” said Liz Feld, president of autism advocacy organization Autism Speaks. “We need to raise awareness and increase education so that tragedies like this never happen again.”

 

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$10,000 reward offered for safe return of missing Queens teen; family plans to sue city


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

Photos courtesy of NYPD

Updated 4:20 p.m.

As the search continues for a missing autistic Queens teen, a $10,000 reward has been offered for his safe return.

The New York law firm Mayerson & Associates, which, according to a press release from Autism Speaks, dedicates itself “almost exclusively to the representation of individuals with autism” is putting $5,000.

On Thursday afternoon, the Manhattan Children’s Center, a nonprofit private autism school,  announced it has matched the law firm’s offer with an additional $5,000, for a total of $10,000. The additional reward money is coming from the Gelb Family Foundation.

Avonte Oquendo, 14, of Rego Park, was last seen leaving the Center Boulevard School at 1-50 51st Avenue in Long Island City around 12:38 p.m. on Friday, October 4.

The teen, who cannot verbally communicate, somehow managed to escape the school, though he is reportedly supposed to be supervised at all times.

His family is saying a security guard at the school saw their son leave but didn’t stop him and waited a long time to let the child’s mother know that he was missing, according to published reports. The family has filed a notice of claim to sue the school district and city.

Oquendo was last wearing a gray striped shirt, black jeans and black sneakers. Oquendo is 5’3″ tall and weighs 125 pounds.

Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers at (800) 577-TIPS (8477). The public can also submit their tips by logging onto the Crime Stoppers website or can text their tips to CRIMES (274637), then enter TIP577. All calls are strictly confidential.

 

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Book sales to benefit Autism Speaks


| editorial@queenscourier.com

Now you can cook for a cause.

Employees of Keil Bros. Garden Center & Nursery have compiled a “collection of local recipes from . . . families and friends” to benefit Autism Speaks, an international advocacy organization.

Their involvement stemmed from the company’s desire to honor the autistic great-grandson, Alex Keil, 17, of their founder, Henry Keil.

Keil Bros. Friends and Family Cookbook was published in April for Autism Awareness Month. Organized by Lynne Buckley and Kathie Kosky, two longtime employees, the book is a “collection of local recipes from our families and friends of ours,” said Russ Bodenhorn, general manager. “It is a collection of things homemade.”

Kosky describes that process of gathering the recipes as a simple matter of the culinary community.

“We have a lot of good cooks, people who like to cook, so we had them send in their recipes,” she explained. “Most recipes are probably cakes and other treats… as you can see, most of us have a bit of a sweet tooth.”

The $10 cookbook is filled with unique dishes ranging from apple brownies and Polish pound cake (the local favorite) to specialty chicken and chickpea entrees.

It is also filled with historical photos documenting the growth of the Keil family and their garden center.

All proceeds from the sale of the cookbook will be donated.

The cookbook is sold at all times at Keil Bros., located at 210-11 48th Avenue in Bayside. To find out more, call 718-224-2020.