Three weeks ago, Avonte Oquendo, a non-verbal autistic 14-year old boy, walked out of his school in Queens and disappeared. Film footage shows Avonte loping down the hallway of the school without an aide. A security guard briefly questioned him and then the boy was let loose into the world.
For obvious reasons, I’ve followed this story closely on the local news stations. I followed his brother’s twitterfeed. I’ve searched his name on google for the latest information.
The latest information isn’t good. They can’t find the kid. How can a non-verbal autistic child simply disappear?
I debated joining the search in Queens on Monday. I do know where autistic kids like to go. But then I decided to stay here. I need to keep an eye on my own kids.
Three weeks have passed and now there is little hope of a good ending to this story. His family now thinks that someone abducted him.
Al Shapton has joined the search group. CNN and the national news sources are following the story. Where were they before? Where were they before Avonte ran outside the school in his striped Old Navy shirt?
New York City’s programs for autistic children are terrible. I met two families this past month who moved out of New York City into my town, because they were exhausted by the New York City Board of Education. The city’s procedure for educating autistic children is to first offer an awful school, like this one in Queens. A non-verbal autistic child should never be left alone in a school. An aide should be trailing that child every single minute. Avonte should never have gotten to that exit of the school and encountered the stupid security guard. But that’s what happens in a poorly funded school for autism. And then only after a parent protests and hires an expensive lawyer and goes through every legal manuever will the city relent and provide a proper education for the child. The city knows that most parents will be worn down by the process, and either give up or move.
This situation is mean-spirited and evil.
Even in lesser evil school districts and towns, there is simply not enough support for families with children with autism and other special needs. These children aren’t lost in Queens, but they are neglected and ignored. The parents are in a never-ending battle with schools, insurance companies, and their communities.
I pray that we find Avonte, but I also want to point to the millions of other Avontes who need help.