The search for Avonte Oquendo: understanding autism spectrum disorder

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The ‘autism’ label covers a lot of ground, and the wide variation in symptoms among children with autism, has led to the concept of an “autism spectrum disorder”.

Unfortunately, 14-year-old Avonte Oquendo is on the less-functioning end of the spectrum.  He is completely non-verbal, he doesn’t speak.  He needs 24-hour care.

Autism spectrum disorders affect three different areas of a child’s life: there’s social interaction, communication — both verbal and non-verbal — and behaviors and interests.  Each child with an autism spectrum disorder will have his or her own pattern of autism.

It’s also important to understand that even if he was a fully-functioning child he would have difficulty fending for himself on the street.

We don’t know how much cognitive function Oquendo has.  Does he have the mental capacity to know that he needs to eat, to figure out how to get food.  Does he have money?  Does he know how to use it?  And most of all, is he being held against his will?  Would he be able to figure out a way to escape?  These are all concerns that all parents of autistic kids know too well and it adds to the terror of the whole situation.

We know he’s not going to respond to his own name.  He has trouble making eye contact.  He’s going to appear not to hear you. And he wouldn’t even be able to ask for help.

One thing that might help is posting these missing signs in the subway as we know he has a fascination with trains.

Anyone with information in leading to Oquendo is urged to call the NYPD anonymous tip line CRIMESTOPPERS at 800-577-TIPS.