Atlantic Beach resident Lesley Rothschild, the mother of a non-verbal 12-year-old boy with autism, says she has a higher level of anxiety than most parents, especially near water or around traffic signs.
According to the National Autism Association, 49 percent of children and teenagers with the disorder tend to wander, and often endanger themselves in traffic or near the water.
Rothschild’s son, whom she declined to name, has wandered away several times, and was once found, unharmed, in Reynolds Channel. Another time he was found walking against traffic in Atlantic Beach.
“It is a constant worry,” said Rothschild, a nurse who works in the Valley Stream Central School District and at Franklin Hospital in Valley Stream. “It is an accident waiting to happen.”
Though the boy has 24-hour care seven days a week — at his home at AHRC Nassau, with his mother or father, or at school in Brookville — the concern that he will wander off is constant. “My son is bigger, faster than me,” Rothschild said. “Autistic children tend to love water and traffic signs.”
That omnipresent fear was fueled most recently by the death of Avonte Oquendo, a 14-year-old non-verbal autistic boy who wandered away from his Long Island City school on Oct. 4 and whose body washed up along the East River in College Point, Queens, on Jan. 16.
Rothschild has begun a campaign to persuade the Nassau County Police Department to apply for federal funds — through the U.S. Department of Justice’s Byrne Grant Program — to pay for tracking devices that could be made available to families with autistic children. She sent letters to County Executive Ed Mangano, County Legislator Denise Ford (R-Long Beach) and the county police commissioner’s office last week.