Claremore Daily Progress

Our View

April 2, 2014

Autism awareness did not save Avonte


This is part one of three stories honoring the warrior families facing autism.
Every April since the 1970’s due to an abruptly rising condition in children across the country, we observe Autism Awareness Month.  According to government figures, the rapid increase in autism, unheard of prior to the 1940’s, skyrocketed from 1 in 10,000 children to the latest estimates of 1 in 68.  
Thirty years of awareness brings us to Oct. 4, 2013.  Avonte Oquendo, a 14 year old boy afflicted with autism, vanished in broad daylight from his school in New York.  Avonte’s remains were found in January. Avonte was non-verbal, his autism affecting his ability to speak, making him even more vulnerable.  
Avonte’s family cherished and protected their son. They warned the school he tends to wander off, as many autistic children do.  While pending lawsuits will attempt to sort out mistakes made at the school, autism action by federal and local government agencies may have avoided this tragic death.      
Awareness of autism was a first step – taken over 30 years ago. How is it we are stuck in “awareness?”  Stagnant, decades after scientific studies from health and education institutes began screaming about the  increasing number of children  falling off the normal development track.  Can you imagine if cancer, drunk driving, diabetes, and AIDS stayed in the awareness stage? In 2002, U.S. Representative Dan Burton, (R) IN, held a hearing before the House Committee on Government regarding “The Autism Epidemic – Is the NIH and CDC Response Adequate?” 
Burton stated “the CDC’s spending for autism is almost 80 times less than that for AIDS and five times less than that of diabetes.”  His hearing called out the CDC and NIH to commit more research money for autism. It was a call to move out of awareness and into action. That was 12 years ago. 
You can always tell what is important to a person or organization, regardless of what they say, when you audit their checkbook.  According to the figures published on, our federal government’s checkbook on disease funding, the spending ratios were not much different for 2012. Spending on autism research  is only 6.4 percent of what is spent on AIDS.   While autism destroys more families, bankrupting them as well as pushing school resources too thin, the federal government still has not bothered to put money – our money – where it will actually do any good for the growing autistic population, their families or the educators and that work with them.

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