A U.S. senator is asking the Justice Department to provide tracking devices to parents who wish to monitor their children with autism and other developmental disorders who wander.
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., wants the U.S. Department of Justice to offer grant money to local law enforcement agencies so that they can distribute tracking devices to parents who would like the technology in order to help find their children if they go missing.
The senator’s proposal comes a month after Avonte Oquendo, 14, who has autism, left his New York City school Oct. 4. Despite a massive search effort, the teen has not been seen since.
Wandering is a relatively common issue for those with autism. A survey conducted by the Interactive Autism Network found that about half of kids with the developmental disorder have a tendency to bolt.
Tracking devices are one of many tools — including alarm systems and locks — that families have turned to in an effort to keep their children safe. With the tracking technology, a small locating device is often worn as a bracelet or attached to a child’s shoe or belt loop. If the individual goes missing, a caregiver can contact the company that provides the device to pinpoint the child’s location.
Schumer said the Justice Department offers similar funding to provide tracking technology for those affected by Alzheimer’s disease who are also known to wander.
“DOJ already funds these devices for individuals with Alzheimer’s and they should do the same for children with autism spectrum disorder,” said Schumer, who stressed than any such program should be strictly voluntary.
“Funding this program will help put school systems and parents of children and teens with autism at ease knowing where their children are,” he said.
Lisa Goring, vice president of family services at Autism Speaks, said the senator’s push to provide funding for tracking devices could make a big difference.
“We think that families should have the option to have a tracking device for their child,” said Goring who indicated that the cost of the technology has been a barrier for some families. “There’s a tremendous need.”
Tracking devices range in price from $50 to upwards of $700 and often incur monthly fees, Goring said.
Depending on a child’s particular habits or sensitivities, a device that affixes to their shoe versus one that is worn around their wrist, for example, may be more appropriate. Or, Goring said, some kids may need a tracker that is waterproof since many on the spectrum are drawn to water.
Justice Department officials did not respond to requests for comment on the proposal, but a representative from Schumer’s office told Disability Scoop that they are in touch with the agency and the request is under review.