“Avonte’s Law”: GPS Tracking System For Children With Autism

In October of 2013, New York teen Avonte Oquendo, disappeared from his school and was confirmed dead last month. Avonte was afflicted with autism and seen in security cameras fleeing the school on the day he went missing. Now, New York Democratic Senator Charles Schumer has proposed a bill that would provide optional tracking devices for children with autism. The legislation is known as “Avonte’s Law” and would designate $10 million in federal funding for the program. The focus of the program would be aimed at locating missing children with autism more quickly.
Subsequent to his disappearance, volunteers spent months searching for Avonte. Sadly, his remains were found last month along the banks of the East River.

The program is modeled after a similar program for people who suffer from Alzheimer’s. “We know how to do it, we’ve seen it done – it works,” says Senator Schumer. Under the new program, police would track kids.
“The only barrier is the funding,” says Senator Schumer, “the devices themselves cost about 80 or 90 dollars, and then it costs only a few dollars a month to do the monitoring.” The devices would be designed to be worn anywhere: belts, wristwatches, shoelaces.

Representatives of Autism Speaks hope the bill will become law. However, the autism awareness group also wants more far-reaching legislation on a federal level that would include funding to teach practical skills like swimming. Autistic children have a higher rate of drowning, encouraged by their noted inclination for water. While Avonte’s case remains under investigation, the authorities have not ruled out drowning being that he was found near a river.

Monday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

Researchers Pursuing Novel Methods to Diagnose Autism, Education Week

A handful of recent studies are delving into new methods of screening children and adults for autism. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 1 in 88 children has this disorder, which affects communication, behavior, and socialization.

In one study, researchers suggest that “micromovements” some people with autism make when asked to point to a dot on a screen may be indicative of the disorder. These results have been published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience.

Also, Google Ventures has provided funding to SynapDx Corp., which is in trials to predict the risk of autism though blood testing. The blood tests examine the ribonucleic acids, or RNA, that becomes visible when white blood cells in a blood sample are dissolved. The behavior of RNA can be linked to autism risk, the company says. The test could be used for children as young as two years old; the average age of diagnosis of autism is 4.5 years.

The Dreary State of Juvenile Mental Health Care, Inside and Outside the Justice System, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

When Linda Pace began her career as a public defender, things were different in DeKalb County, Ga. She recalls a system in the 1980s where the Department of Human Resources and local courts worked in tandem, with several court psychologists and special education teachers on staff. Young people in the juvenile justice system routinely received evaluations to pinpoint educational disabilities, and the local school systems regularly helped refer students to therapists. There were even more Medicaid services available to youth and families.

But with sweeping changes in the 1990s — the era of the “super-predator, mythic nightmare,” she said — Pace noticed a gradual decline in the quality of system services for juveniles. “The focus became criminal logic in the juvenile system, and the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) and the court kind of changed their focus to meet the needs of the protection of the community,” she said. “And that became inconsistent sometimes, with the needs of children that have mental or behavioral disabilities.”

The DJJ, Pace believes, is no longer a viable entry point for youth requiring mental health services, with numerous “gate-keeping devices” in place ensuring that only the most absolutely critical kids get into residential treatment.

Currently, Georgia’s $307 million DJJ budget allocates only 13 percent towards community-based juvenile detention alternative programs, with 2 percent of annual funds going towards intensive, at-home therapeutic programs. Pace said that services are so scant in the state that she often advises the parents of children with severe mental health needs to relocate to other parts of the country.

The de-emphasis of mental health funding in Georgia, however, is not an aberration across the United States. From 2009 until 2011, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reported that 31 states had enacted major mental health budget cuts. And in terms of overall mental health care quality, the national portrait is even grimmer; in a nationwide analysis conducted in 2009, NAMI scored 27 state systems — among them, Florida, Illinois, Michigan and Texas — with overall rankings of “D” or worse.

Sugary Beverages Linked to Higher B.M.I. in Young Children, The New York Times

It sounds like another page from the files of obvious research: a study published in the journal Pediatrics reveals a link between regular consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (dubbed S.S.B.’s) and higher body mass index scores in 2- to 5-year-olds. Children who regularly drank sugar-sweetened sodas, sports beverages or fruit juice (as opposed to 100 percent fruit juice drinks) had both higher B.M.I.’s and “higher weight status” than those who drank them infrequently or not at all.

Sounds like an obvious case of consequences, but as with most research, this paper carefully notes a link, not necessarily a cause. In the same study, researchers also found associations between higher B.M.I.’s and television watching and failing to drink milk. Does increased television watching lead to more advertising viewed and thus to more S.S.B. consumption, or does the heavier child watch more television? Do the sugar-sweetened beverages squeeze out the milk, or does a refusal to drink milk lead to drinking more sugar-sweetened beverages?

It may not much matter, in this case, whether the egg precedes the chicken or vice versa. But as policy makers contemplate writing laws and pushing for change to address the causes of increasing rates of childhood obesity in this country, S.S.B. manufacturers have consistently lobbied against everything from taxes on their product to laws like New York City’s attempted ban on large sugary drinks. A lot of money (more than $40 million in 2009, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest) has been expended to convince the public as a whole, and our legislative bodies in particular, that correlation isn’t causation on this one.

Mental Disorders in Children


According to a recent survey conducted by the Center for Disease Control, approximately 1 in 5 children suffer from some sort of mental disorder, including, but not limited to, anxiety, depression, and attention deficit disorder (ADD).  While discussions regarding mental disorders in adults have been a topic of conversation as of late, mental disabilities in children, differing by presentation, diagnosis, and treatment, often don’t get as much attention.  It is because of these variations in symptoms that may be normal at differing points in a child’s development stages, such as outbursts of aggression, difficulty in paying attention, or fearfulness that mental disorders in children tend to go unrecognized and undiagnosed.  Unfortunately, because disorders in children can be so hard to identify, many children who could benefit from treatment often do not receive it.

Not only do mental disorders in children affect the child themselves, but their family and community as well.  Among children ages 3-17, the cost of medical bills for such treatment is up to $247 billion per year, with the money going towards things like medical, special education, and juvenile justice expenses.  According to the study, the most prevalent disorder among our nation’s children is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), affecting approximately 6.8% of America’s youth population. Behavioral or conduct problems impacts about 3.5% of children, followed by anxiety (3%), depression (2.1%), autism spectrum disorders (1.1%), and tourette syndrome (.2%).  Furthermore, the study found that ADHD, behavioral or conduct problems, autism spectrum disorders, anxiety, tourette syndrome, and cigarette dependence are more prevalent in boys than girls, while depression and alcohol use disorder tend to be displayed more often in female children.

When I was in the 4th grade, I was diagnosed with ADD, a disorder similar to ADHD.  Children with ADD typically have problems with paying attention or concentrating, following directions, and thinking before they act (impulsivity).  They can also become easily bored or frustrated with what would otherwise be basic tasks.  Symptoms of ADD in children usually fall into three categories: inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.  Prior to getting diagnosed with ADD and subsequently being prescribed mediation, I remember being easily distracted, inattentive, and very disorganized. Luckily I had a good head on my shoulders and was able to get my school work done, but not only did tasks take me longer to complete than my fellow students, but also, at times, I would make careless errors due to my inability to concentrate, which only escalated the level of frustration I was already experiencing. Furthermore, because the impulsivity aspect of ADD was a symptom that heavily affected me, I had difficulty waiting for my turn to speak, often blurting out answers or interrupting others, which in turn, caused teachers to believe I was being purposefully defiant.  My undiagnosed ADD not only affected myself, but it affected my parents as well.  My constant frustrations and impulsivities caused me to become moody and irritable with my parents usually being on the receiving end those undesirable emotions.

Being the youngest of numerous siblings and having had other relatives diagnosed with ADD, my parents were familiar with the warning signs and symptoms so they had me tested in 4th grade.  While I remember not wanting to go to the nurse’s office to take my medication because I didn’t want to feel different than the rest of the students, I remember hating the constant waves of frustration that resulted from my inability to focus way more.  Luckily, I was diagnosed at a relatively early age and was able to get the treatment I needed in order to succeed.  Unfortunately, many children, not only with ADD or ADHD but also with other mental difficulties as well, are not tested and therefore struggle to succeed, as they are undiagnosed and untreated.

While, according to the CDC study, the number of children being diagnosed with mental disorders is steadily increasing, suggesting that perhaps people are becoming more aware of the identifying symptoms, it is exceptionally important for both parents as well as health care professionals to strive for early diagnosis and subsequently determine the appropriate treatment in order to not only help the child, but also to better comprehend the influence of mental disorders, communicate the needs for treatment and intervention strategies, and advocate for the mental health of children as a whole.