After Autistic Girl’s Death, Questions About Why Tracking Device Did Not Work
10-year-old Kristina Vlassenko was reported missing within an hour after her family could not find her on Monday afternoon. 9News reports that a construction worker found her body around 7am the next morning. According to Arvada (Colorado) police, Kristina may have fallen into a “water-filled hole excavated for the foundation of a new recreation center.” So far, authorities do not suspect foul play.
Kristina was non-verbal and, according to her former bus driver, Liz Garcia, “loved to play in dirt and that could have been a reason she went into the construction site.”
…the girl was equipped with a Life Trak system, which is a transmitter about the size of a wrist watch used to locate at-risk people when they go missing. They are similar to those used for people with Alzheimer’s and autism. Arvada began using the program in 2008 at no cost to families that qualified.
According to officers, Kristina’s Life Trak had never been activated before, since she did not have a history of wandering off. They were not able to get a signal from it when it was activated Monday.
“We never were able to get a solid ping from that,” [Arvada Police spokesperson Susan] Medina said.
…Officers suspect Kristina’s transmitter probably wasn’t emitting a traceable signal because it was under water. They have contacted the manufacturer, Illinois-based Care Trak, to address the issue.
Michael Chylewski, vice president of Illinois-based Care Trak International, said that Kristina’s death is “the company’s first reported fatality in its 26-year history” and said that the company is “sending company representatives out to aid the local police and sheriff’s office in their investigation.”
The tragedy of Kristina’s death underscores the limitations of tracking and other devices to monitor autistic and other individuals. The devices are also used for individuals with Alzheimer’s and other conditions and, as the Denver Post says, many have found them to be “lifesavers.” But we still need to focus on other strategies to keep autistic children and others safe.
A recent Research Report: Elopement and Wandering by the Interactive Autism Network found that more than a third of autistic children who wander or elope are “never or rarely able to communicate their name, address, or phone number verbally or by writing/typing.” Some strategies include teaching a child to carry an identification card (especially important for children who, like Kristina and my own son, are non- or minimally verbal). There are a number of iPod and iPad tracking apps available (I’m looking into one called Footprints) but these have one major drawback: You have to keep the device on your person and, at least for my son, we can’t 100% guarantee that. As for putting a wristwatch-like tracking device on Charlie: We have a feeling that, even if he were taught to wear it, he might just rip it off.
Care 2 blogger Angela Braun recently wrote about the Mason Alert. The Mason Allen Medlam Foundation, which Sheila and Kenneth Medlam founded last year after their 5-year-old autistic son, Mason, wandered and drowned, is currently lobbying Congress and the federal Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee to establish the Mason Alert. This would be a national wandering child alert program similar to the Amber Alert program for suspected child abductions.
As I once heard the director of a AutismNJ say at a lecture about, yes, keeping autistic children safe, one of the problems of autistic children wandering and being lost is that, from their perspective, they’re not lost. They know where they are; the problem is, it very likely does not occur to an autistic child to communicate to someone that they want to go off somewhere. So it behooves us parents and teachers of autistic children and others to take every precaution we can and keep our very special children safe.
TAKE ACTION: Sign the petition to ask the IACC for a national “Mason Alert” to protect wandering children and adults!
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Photo by Lance Shields.