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It could be us……..

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My biggest fear, as a mom of a non-verbal child with Autism, is that he’ll get lost and not be able to communicate his needs or name to people who can help get him home. The thought of it, literally wakes me up out of a sound sleep in cold sweats at night.

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I get missing autistic children notices in my Facebook feed a lot because of all my ties to the autism community. Late last year, I got a notice that a 14 year old, non-verbal autistic child in New York, Avonte Oquendo, got out of his school from an open door. He was seen running away on surveillance footage, and his body was found several weeks later on the banks of the East River. I sobbed.

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So I ask – How??? How did that happen? Parents with a child diagnosed with autism locks their house and property diligently. How does a school that has dozens of autistic and special needs children under its roof not do this? How does 30 minutes go by before the open door gets closed by a safety officer? The most maddening question I have is How did a non verbal child get left unattended long enough to get out? How?

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Through tears and fear I feel so sad for this family because it could be us. It could be! Our schools are wide open, and there are no fences – nothing to keep bad out or students on campus. Some days I watch the school during recess and make sure my kids are being watched and protected.

All it takes is a second or less for a child to flee out of sight and reach of the supervising adult. 10 seconds or less……. You could laugh at another child, look at your watch, get something in your eye, tie your shoe, sneeze, and boom a child has run into the street or farther.

My children with autism have a problem with elopement. They are runners, and they bolt, they put themselves in harms way, and it’s my job to prevent it from happening. It’s the school job to protect them for the 5 hours a day when they are there, and it’s my job to do it for 19 hours out of the day when they are with me.

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My son has gone missing. I was screaming and yelling for him. When he didn’t answer it was a deafening sound. It was 8 minutes, and I thought I was going to have a heart attack. I bent down to tie my younger son’s shoe, and Franklin was gone. We had 12 people looking for him, and it was terrifying for me that he got so far to a nearby creek and a busy road. So I do know how it happens, and the fear of failing my child has not left me in a couple of years.

So we can not fail anymore children, their schools, educators, transportation providers, therapists, administrators and other children at schools need to be made aware, and diligent. We have a responsibility it to the kids who have no voice, to question for them. It’s our responsibility to make the world safe for them because their inability to navigate through it is deadly. We need to be responsible to make their world a better and safer place to be.

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Parents, teachers, administrators, and students, I beg you to keep your eyes out for our special kids. When you see one unattended, let an adult know immediately. If you see an open door at school – close it. Think, please think of the safety of these children, a lot of them do not have the cognition to know danger, and/or have any regard for their personal safety. There is no reason any special needs child should be unattended – ever. There is no excuse. I don’t know how this school failed poor Avonte, but my responsibility as a mom and member of the community is to make sure I do all I can to make sure it does not happen again.

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The Oquendo Family has recently launched an autism advocacy and awareness website in Avonte’s memory.

Rebecca is a stay at home mom of 2 boys with Autism that keep her very busy. She has been writing her blog “The Real Moms of OC” for 2 years. She is a wife, mom, slayer of dragons, CEO of the home, bus driver, maid, short order cook and princess. She also runs through the mud and half marathons. She managed with the help of an amazing medical team to beat breast cancer and is thankfully cancer free for 3 years.
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One Comment

  1. Thank you for bringing this to my attention. These are not things I would normally thimk about; I do however always assist children who seem to have gotten away from their adults. I remember the story of Avonte. My heart breaks for his family!

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