In response to news from New York regarding the remains of 14-year-old Avonte Oquendo, an autistic teenager, found near Queens, Areva Martin president and co-founder of Special Needs Network has issued the following statement:
“As a mother of an autistic child, I have paid very close attention to the search for Avonte after he went missing from his school this past October. I’m heartbroken and shocked to hear the news that the human remains found in Queens are in fact this young man’s body.
My heart and prayers have been with this family for months and this is not the closure I’ve prayed for. It’s news that no parent should ever have to hear.
What happened to Avonte is tragic and unacceptable and, as a national advocate for children with autism, I’m urging every school administrator in America, especially those at schools that care for special needs children, to closely review your protocols and procedures.
In this day and age, we have the technology to ensure our children are monitored while inside educational facilities. Despite cameras and policies though, Avonte was able to leave his classroom and, shockingly, was gone for hours before anyone realized he was missing.
This is intolerable. Every parent should have the confidence of knowing their child is safe when away from their family. When you are the parent of a special needs child like Avonte, who was nonverbal, that confidence becomes even more crucial.
I encourage every school in America to act quickly and schedule a meeting with the appropriate staff members to review your policies and procedures. We have to ensure that what happened to Avonte never happens again. This horrific nightmare could have been avoided. Please act now to take precautions in honor of Avonte.
With one in 50 school-aged children diagnosed with autism, school districts must intensify their training and safeguards to protect kids like Avonte. They must ensure that nonverbal students have argumentative communication devices, one-on-one aids and other supports so that they are not vulnerable or subject to harm.
Avonte should have never made it out of his secure area, yet he was hundreds of yards away from the persons responsible for his care. Missing children, bullying, school shootings. Enough is enough. As a country, we must do a better job of taking care of our children!”
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