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Senator Wants Tracking Devices For Kids With Autism


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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.

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Comments (30 Responses)

  1. Troy Titus says:

    I love the idea, and there are multiple affordable programs out their for this purpose. I myself am organizing a motorcycle ride here in Houston Texas to raise the money to not only get the program up and running in Harris County, but hopefully purchase a bulk of bracelets to give to those who can’t afford the cost. Couple wandering with a fascination for water and you have a special needs parent’s worst nightmare. I know this oh to well. If there is anyone who would like to attend check my FB page. We’re having a free concert after the ride!!

  2. Larry Mack says:

    This is an idea that is long overdue. The implications for older adults alone with the wandering stage of Alzheimer’s alone makes this an important step in the right direction. Likewise for children and even adults with a lower cognizant ability of autism this is key. Let’s hope it goes beyond the talking stage.

  3. Sarah says:

    My son wears a LoJack Safety net radio tracking bracelet on his ankle 24/7 b/c his bolting/wandering has been a huge safety concern. He still needs to be closely supervised but it gives me some peace of mind that if he ever gets lost he will be found. Just a suggestion for the companies who make these bracelets. the bracelets are not attractive looking, think about adding a design or add colors to make them look fun for kids who have to wear them

  4. Erin says:

    (Senator Wants Tracking Devices For Kids With Autism) I completely agree with this to keep our children safe. I have worked with children and youth who have Autism and I have a child with Autism who like to bolt. We have alarms and a security door with a key lock and dogs but my son has escaped a couple of times. He’s very clever, strategic and can climb. It only takes 30 seconds of turning my back and even just grocery shopping. I have worked hard to help him learn his phone number, address but honestly he doesn’t always remember and cannot always communicate well due to apraxia. I would love to sign a petition for this.

  5. Brita Darany von Regensburg says:

    Parents with children who have autism are stretched to the max to provide the additioe fear and shock of having yoiur child gone missing is tremendous. If it parents can be relieved of this stress it would free up some time and energy to focus on teaching learning other necessary skills to teach and live with their children.

  6. KA101 says:

    I notice that the article hasn’t asked any autistic people what they think of having tracking devices attached to them. But those poor suffering parents, yeah, they need all the help they can get.

    I’d much rather Issy Stapleton had been able to bolt from the car. It’s too bad Alex Spourdalakis wasn’t able to wander away from his caregivers. The Neurodivergent K may very well be alive today because, when it mattered, she was able to run.

    These tools can be misused. Kindly do not race to impose them.

  7. Patricia Elaine Chandler says:

    This is a horrific idea! I can’t believe the alarmist mechanisms in place. Hackers live for these technological advances. Please do some research and in the meantime, how about we invest in Community and Neighborhood Watches, like we used to, 50 years ago.

    And here’s a novel idea, how about creating an environment at home, in schools, in agency run group homes and assisted living communities where Personnel actually are effectively trained and perform the tasks necessary to keep our Differently Abled Children, Teens, Adults and Seniors Save!

    We have to STOP applying patches, fixes and identify the Route Causes of these situations.

    Example, what made Avonte Oquendo bolt out the doors and down the street away from his “normal” environment? What happened? More importantly, how was he able to leave a facility which specifically houses and educated Differently Abled Children, and some who do not speak and/or communicate in conventional modes? Why were exits not secured? Where were the teacher, aid, security???

    This situation is, most sadly and unfortunately, going to continue and with more dire consequences, until the Root Causes are identified and addressed.

    Children do Not Bolt for no reason. I didn’t. I always had a reason for Running Away.

    I pray every day Avonte Oquendo is still in this Country; I feel he is though not for long. More and more Children are being taken because Parental Guides, Cate-Givers, Teachers are not doing what they are supposed to be doing.

    I’ll stop now because I’m going to start crying.

  8. Amy Landes says:

    Tracking devices are fine, assuming it doesn’t come off and the person tolerates it. I would like to go a step farther and propose a chip for kids and the elderly who may tend to wander. Hospital emergency rooms and police stations could have a scanner that reads the chip that would have contact information in a database. Yes, kind of like for your pet. I would rather my adult, non-verbal autistic son have that in common with our dog than worry about his human rights and lose him.

  9. Peggy Eherenman says:

    It takes only once and and only a minute for even a very closely supervised person with autism to take off. It is NOT the same as child running away from home. There might be a trigger such as a high pitched sound, something that caught his eye, a thought in his own head…we may never know why, just that it does happen. The priorty is keeping him safe and a tracking device would be great. I hope there are optionsin case someone removes there shoes to wade in water.
    Thanks,Senator for your efforts!

  10. Linda DiPietra says:

    Tracking devices would be the answer to the horrific nightmare of my 4yr.old grandaughters wandering. I have lost countless nights sleep with the fear that she will be lost, being non-verbal, and doesn’t respond to her name. I have been pricing devices and have not found one that is affordable. She is unable to communicate should she need help and like most children with Autism she is attracked to water. We have many rivers close by with heavy currents, no amount of swimming lessons would prevent a drowning in these conditions. We must all ADVOCATE for goverment assistance with tracking devices.

  11. Diane F says:

    I’ve looked into these devices on several occasions, but they have been cost prohibitive. We even had an alarm installed on our house, not to keep the bad guys out, but to keep our good guy in. Unfortunately, he’s smart enough that he figured out individual patterns of the comings and goings of the household, and still managed to sneak out. Our son has left school twice, once to the point of it being a very dangerous situation. He’s left our home; thank goodness for the kindness of our local police. My son’s wanderings are always a concern for us, so having a device such as this, with the funding to use it properly, would be incredibly helpful. The long range locators are typically very expensive thus the need for some type of aid.

  12. Tacitus says:

    How does it not occur to any of these people that these people are “bolting” for a good reason? We don’t need to advocate for tracking devices, we need to advocate for safe caregivers!

  13. John says:

    This is a good idea for SOME autistic kids. It is a good solution, but not all autistic kids can handle having tracking devices, or anything else, placed on them. And, they are much smarter than they appear. They can learn patterns, so it does not surprise me that they can learn when nobody is looking.

  14. Angela Jandera says:

    I think its a good idea. Where do you get one?

  15. Helen says:

    Why just for children on the spectrum? Why not any child with a developmental disability who wonders or blots? I have a child with Down syndrome and this device is needed for him and many other children with DD.

  16. Sarah says:

    Patrica we live in an imperfect world where we have to weigh our kids safety over their freedom to roam. My son needs this bracelet. We live on a peninsula, in a town that is surrounded by the ocean. Like many kids with autism, my son is drawn to the water. We took precautions and put alarms and locks on our doors yet he still manages to get out and has wandered down to the beach. My son has bolted from his SPED teachers at school on many occassions (he is very fast). The LoJack Safety net tracking program that my son is enrolled is in coordinated through our county sheriffs office and the local police in my area. Once a 911 call is placed that a child is missing, the police can automically go into gear and launch a ground search using radio signals. The goal is safety and the police only alerted when a child goes missing. Having a bracelet is an added precaution. Too many children with autism have wandered off and died or have gone missing for days even weeks b/c they cannot communicate. This is a nightmare for the parents. A trackng bracelet would prevent that. More autism wandering reports including some that have ended tragically can be found on the AWAARE dot org web site

  17. Sarah says:

    There is an excellent PSA on youtube about Autism & Wandering done by NAA. I urge everyone to please watch.

  18. patm says:

    It’s so easy to be judgmental until you have worked in the field. These devices are used with Alzheimers patients with great success and would save much heartache for families and staff, as well as insuring the safety of the individual. It’s already successfull . It’s just a matter of providing funds.

  19. MarS says:

    While this is the a good start, I am looking for the microchip for my son. I have 2 kids on the spectrum, and my younger one has run away numerous times, both from home and school–and without shoes (in the summer) so chip in the shoes doesn’t work for him, and he won’t tolerate wearing something like a bracelet. He’s taken the ID tag off his shoelaces numerous times. We have installed alarm systems, put shutters on the windows and nailed them shut so he can’t get out. Every door has a lock, and every cabinet is locked due to his extreme pica.

    For those of you who think this is a bad idea, you have no idea what a nightmare is like until you realize your child is missing, and he cannot communicate who he is or how to get home. I am hoping I will be able to find a tracking device like a chip that will enable us and law enforcement to find my son when he escapes.

  20. reichthedog says:

    this is a good idea, and I think the device can also be used for normal kids.

  21. reichthedog says:

    MarS says:
    November 7, 2013 at 12:43 am While this is the a good start, I am looking for the microchip for my son. I have 2 kids on the spectrum, and my younger one has run away numerous times, both from home and school–and without shoes (in the summer) so chip in the shoes doesn’t work for him, and he won’t tolerate wearing something like a bracelet. He’s taken the ID tag off his shoelaces numerous times. We have installed alarm systems, put shutters on the windows and nailed them shut so he can’t get out. Every door has a lock, and every cabinet is locked due to his extreme pica.

    For those of you who think this is a bad idea, you have no idea what a nightmare is like until you realize your child is missing, and he cannot communicate who he is or how to get home. I am hoping I will be able to find a tracking device like a chip that will enable us and law enforcement to find my son when he escapes.


    actually, i know an autism parent put tattoos of name and telephone number on his son’s arm.

  22. Non Mouse says:

    Oh wow, the majority of these comments are gross as hell.

    I’m very, very happy I live across the ocean and had two parents who, despite owning their own business, took care of me, instead of having me micro chipped like a dog. Saved me from being treated as lower than human, and allowed me to have my human rights, despite having issues because of my autism.

  23. taracat says:

    Im sorry… but this is disgusting. I don’t want a tracking device in me, I would never put one in my pet, and the thought of sticking it in to a human makes me ill. How absolutely horrific. Blech.

  24. Linda Walder Fiddle says:

    The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation wholeheartedly supports this legislation and will work with our national and state legislators as we have done for the past dozen years to assure that this option is available to individuals and families so that no person is without the means of finding a missing loved one.

  25. Gladys says:

    I saw the news where Senator Schumer talks about the tracking device. However, children with autism don’t want anything on their bodies or clothes. I know, I have an austistic grandson.who doesn’t want anything on his body. I feel that the tracking device could be inserted through a hole on the device and threaded through the child’s shoelaces on his sneakers where it could be placed between the bottom of the laces and the tongue of the sneaker. There it would be secure from the child removing it.

  26. KatjadieTediz says:

    To quote somebody with autism who read this post, “And I love how it’s voluntary for ‘the parents’ no mention of the kids being able to choose whether they get tracked or not. There is nothing voluntary about this.”

    The intentions are obviously very good, but this sort of idea is very problematic in a number of ways. First off, as the person I quoted said, the parents make the decision, not the children. Some children are indeed not equipped to do this but for many young adults and adults with autism, we are more than capable of choosing this.
    Second, this opens so many doors for ableist caretakers or individuals. Someone who is prejudiced against those who are neuroatypical could see this device and take it as a sign to abuse their victims. This sort of thing may even make existing abuse worse. I hope this Senator reconsiders this idea.

  27. Betzaida says:

    How do I apply for one of these devices??? I need one for my autistic son who tends to run. Off….

  28. Shelly Dowdle says:

    I think this is a great idea. Not ALL kids/adults with autism need this sort of thing, but there are many who do. I saw a post here where someone said their parents didn’t put a tracking device on them even though they have autism. If you are able to post here, then you are NOT one of the kids/adults with autism who need one. The symptoms are so vastly different, only the parents of someone who spends a lot of time with the person can know if this is something that is needed. I don’t think this would make parents/caregivers “lazy” about watching their children. It would just add an additional way to protect the people who CANNOT make choices like this on their own, who cannot speak or even interact with others! Both of my son’s have autism, but thankfully have improved over the years. My oldest did not communicate until he was 5 years old. He happened to get a kidney transplant then and it made a huge difference in his abilities. He is still not “typical” but he can usually get across what he’s trying to say. There are still times he cannot, but he does know his address. He’s almost 22 years old and looking at him, you wouldn’t know there was anything going on, except when he starts on the self-stim behaviors. My younger son is more functional. He does have communication issues and cannot seem to remember our address, but I think he could probably tell someone that he was lost and he knows his name. He has always been our bolter and wanderer. His brain just goes off on it’s own adventure and he just wanders away to do whatever it is that he thinks is fun. I have to make him hold onto the shopping cart when we go to the store, or hold my hand. He’s 8. He has no fear and is no afraid of strangers at all. This is not a device that you can ask those with autism if they would want. The people who are able to answer are not the ones who need them!

  29. Maryann Farrell says:

    Please let us have tracking devices for our kids who run and keep running. They are fast and curious and have no sense of the world around them. My daughter is nonverbal severely autistic and tries to get out of our yard and house continuously . Everything is locked and we sleep with our keys tied to us. It’s so scary.

  30. Phyllis Bradley says:

    A tracking devices would help my 4 yr because we live in a rural area, and he loves water there are lots of ponds & lakes around. So far we have been able too not let him know about some of them. Also his school is less than a 1/2 mile too the river. So yes you can I’m not just worried I scared to death something is going to happen. That’s why I trying to find a tracking decives.

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