Mom says son with autism was suspended after wandering away from school undetected

A mother of a 14-year-old boy with autism alleges that, instead of staff being punished for failing to notice her son had wandered out of his school last week, her son was disciplined, receiving a five-day suspension.

Michael, a student at Elwood Middle School in Suffolk County, New York, left the school and was missing for an hour. Staff remained unaware of his disappearance until Michael walked home and his mother, Carrie, returned him to school.

Those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) commonly “wander or bolt from safe settings,” according to the National Autism Association. However, as a result of wandering from the school building, Michael, and not the adults in charge of his well being, is being punished.

Michael was suspended for five days following the incident and will miss all end-of-year activities planned for the eighth-grade class. His mother says it is “unfair” as he is missing out on the eighth-grade picnic, getting his yearbook signed by his classmates, and the practice walk for graduation.

“It’s like they said, ‘Your son’s at fault for having autism,’" Carrie told News 12.

Michael’s parents are now citing Kevin and Avonte’s Law, according to CBS News, a federal law enacted that “promotes initiatives that reduce the risk of injury or death related to the wandering characteristics of some children with autism.” The law is named for nine-year-old Kevin Curtis Wills, who wandered from home and drowned in Iowa’s Raccoon River in 2008, and 14-year-old Avonte Oquendo, who left his high school and drowned in New York City’s East River in 2014.

“Actually, it’s outrageous,” Carrie said during a press conference. “that the school has actually said is that this poor boy who ended up in the East River two years ago didn’t matter — that when the federal government decided to legislate on that boy’s behalf, it didn’t matter — because we’re still looking at children with autism as they have a behavior problem.”

The same tragic fate could have easily befallen Michael, Carrie added.

While a representative for the school district did not immediately respond to Yahoo Lifestyle’s requests for comment, superintendent of schools Kenneth R. Bossert told CBS, “Please know that the safety, health and welfare of every student, faculty and staff member is of paramount importance. The administration and our security team will continue to review all systems and protocols in and around our school facilities.” He was unable to comment further due to confidentiality laws.

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