I can't even imagine how frantic 14-year-old Avonte Oquendo's mother must be feeling right now: The "severely autistic" NYC boy, who is unable to communicate verbally, has been missing since Friday. He was last seen leaving Center Boulevard School in Long Island City where, disturbingly, he is supposed to be under constant one-on-one supervision. Because Oquendo is known for his love of trains, the NYPD have been searching subway tunnels in the hopes of finding him -- he's run away three times before and was discovered on the tracks each time.
Oquendo's tendency to wander isn't unique to him, unfortunately: According to a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics, almost half of all children with autism will run away at least once before their 17th birthday; of those who run away, tragically, many will be found dead. Most of those deaths -- a staggering 91 percent -- are from drowning.
What does this mean? Basically, it means we all have to do our part to keep special needs kids safe. Law enforcement officials can't do it alone, particularly because of the many factors that make autistic children so difficult to find: They tend to run from loud noises like police sirens and barking dogs and are excellent at hiding/burrowing (a comforting behavior that helps them to feel safe). They also tend to disappear without warning, unlike other kids who might drop hints or leave home after an argument with parents, etc. So it's really up to communities at large to firstly be aware of special needs kids and, secondly, always keep our eyes and ears open for signs that these children (any children, of course) might be in danger.
Now, in the case of Oquendo, it certainly seems like someone dropped the ball -- where was the security guard? Where was the person responsible for keeping a close eye on Oquendo at all times? At this point, though, all that really matters is finding him before it's too late.
Avonte Oquendo, who is said to be 5'3", was wearing a gray striped shirt, black jeans, and black sneakers at the time of his disappearance. Please call the NYPD's Crime Stoppers Hotline at 800-577-TIPS if you have any information about the boy.
Have you known any autistic children who ran away?