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If you haven’t heard of Avonte Oquendo, you are not alone. Let me catch you up. Avonte is a 14 year old autistic child. He walked out of his school, where he was supposed to have a dedicated 1:1 at all times. The security guard stood back and watched this young man leave the school, unaccompanied, on Friday, October 4, at 12:38pm. He hasn’t been seen since. Avonte is non-verbal. He has developmental delays and is functioning at an age much lower than his chronological age.
Let’s make this really simple:
* Autistic Teen
* Missing since Oct. 4
* Little to no media coverage
The weather is getting chilly in New York. It does that this time of year. Avonte left school in a shirt, jeans and sneakers. No jacket. No sweatshirt. No backpack that may have held a long-forgotten snack or two. His school is located perilously close to the East River. And train tracks. And, for all that Avonte loves train tracks and schedules, he is still developmentally delayed. He’s still, cognitively, very much a little boy. And, he’s still missing.
That’s right. By the time this blog publishes, October 14, Avonte will have been missing for 10 days. TEN DAYS. Imagine the hell that Avonte is going through right now. He’s cold. He’s hungry. He may be having withdrawal from medications (I have no knowledge of this, but it is well within the realm of possibilities.). He’s undoubtedly afraid, and wondering when his parents will come get him and bring him home.
He’s someone’s son. And, he could very well be my son, or your son. And he’s been missing FOR TEN DAYS.
The Village failed Avonte. See, sorry to burst the “other half’s bubble” but Hillary Clinton had it right. It does take a village to raise a child. Especially a special needs child. We, as individual parents and families, cannot do this alone. We have to sleep. We have to close our eyes, turn our backs for one second, grab a bite to eat. We have to trust that when our child is in your presence that they are safe. I’m talking to you Special Education Teachers, school support staff, security guards. You have to do your part. You have to do more than just “show up;” you have to do your job. Therapists, physicians, social workers, we cannot do this without your help. Neighbors, strangers in the grocery store, put your phone down and connect with the families in your neighborhood. Goddamn it, I’m angry. We give lip service to being stronger together, about finding our tribe, and holding people’s feet to the fire. And then something like this happens and you realize that lip service is exactly what it is.
Where is the national media coverage? I’ve seen no “breaking news” alerts on CNN. For God’s sake, they do a “breaking news” alert every time the congress farts, and we can’t get word out that Avonte Oquenda has been missing for 10 days? Where are the televised press conferences, the community leaders seen speaking out on this teen’s behalf? God forbid, this young man hopped a train. He could literally be anywhere.
Haven’t we lost enough of our children? Haven’t too many families experienced this abject terror? When are we going to wake up? We need to come together. I mean, really come together. Not talk about it. Not just “say” we’re a community. But really do it. The time has come.
We are stronger together.
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