When Children with Autism Wander from School 


The heartbreaking ending to the case of Avonte Oquendo, a non-verbal 14 year old with autism who walked out of his Long Island high school on October 4th, never to return, shines a harsh light on the safety of special needs children while at public schools. Security cameras captured him darting out a door towards a riverside park, but a cavalcade of errors made by the school left him missing until his remains were found scattered along the river bank earlier this week. His heartbroken parents intend to file a wrongful death suit against the school for taking too long to notice him missing, then even longer to adequately respond.

Mainstreaming is vaunted as the best case scenario for children with special needs, but the fact of the matter is that overcrowded schools are not adequately prepared for the task of having at-risk kids in their midst. Children with disabilities are disciplined at a much higher rate than neurotypical kids, which provokes a fight-or-flight response from them. Avonte’s school was five stories with five exits, and while a security officer noticed him in the hall and told him to get back to class, that individual failed to personally escort him to his destination. 

What is the takeaway from this horrific scenario?

As parents, we must ask hard questions of our children’s schools. We need to nail down a safety plan for them when they are out of our hands. Ruffle feathers, hold people’s feet to the fire — this can happen anytime, anywhere.

There are many great resources for combating wandering. If I had a child with autism in the school system who was non-verbal and/or prone to wandering, I’d invest in a GPS device that can be worn like a wristwatch.

Here is one site that describes some of them:  FriendshipCircle.org

Another great resource dedicated to this cause comes from The Autism Wandering Awareness Alerts Response and Education (AWAARE).  This group is a collaborative effort from the nation’s top autism organizations who’s mission is to prevent wandering incidents and wandering-related deaths within the autism community through education, resources and awareness. They currently provide a free PDF wandering brochure, which can be downloaded at http://www.awaare.org/docs/wanderingbrochure.pdf

Be proactive about your child’s safety when they are out of your hands. Let’s make Avonte’s tragic death a wake up call that saves other children’s lives

About the Author
Susan Moffitt

3 Responses to When Children with Autism Wander from School 

  1. Concerned Father says:

    I very much appreciate this article and the rallying of parents and caregivers to protect our special needs children. I came across this post today because I learned my child has wandered away from his public school at least twice and the school never notified us. On top of that, I found out my son got out from the playground at the school during recess because there is a gateway in the fence with no gate! The only reason I know he got out was a teacher from another class told my wife, but couldn’t come forward to her superiors because she believed she would get fired. What is going on at these schools? It feels like trying to move a mountain to get so many people trained and caring enough to take care of our children like we need them to. Thank God we found out before anything happened. We’re now looking for a different school, and will be getting him a tracking device.

  2. Susan Moffitt says:

    Yours is a scary story. Thank goodness your child is okay. When you change schools I suggest voicing your concerns up front and nailing down a safety plan that everybody is on board with. Getting that tracking device is awesome!

  3. Hi! I’m Wendorf. If you get a moment, I’d have a look at bespoke languages tuition; they launched quite recently, providing specialist French tutoring, German lessons, Spanish lessons and 11 Plus tuition. I think they’re global? They got my best friend’s daughter into Oxford and my niece into a leading Grammar School!

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Did You Know?

  • * In 1970, Autism affected 1 out of 10,000 children
  • * Autism now affects 1 out of 88 children
  • * Autism affects 1 in 54 boys
  • * 1.7 million Americans have some form of autism
  • * 4 out of 5 autistic children are boys

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