In a press conference Sunday, New York Senator Chuck Schumer said he will soon introduce a bill that would allocate $10 million for tracking devices to be worn by children with autism, reports Yahoo.
Sen. Schumer has dubbed his upcoming bill “Avonte’s Law” in memory of Avonte Oquendo, a non-verbal, autistic 14-year-old who ran from his school in Queen this past October and had been missing until his body was discovered this month. Having received a lot of attention, the incident has inspired community leaders like Schumer to take a more proactive approach to safeguarding children with autism.
As family members of children with autism can attest, wandering is a trait that is not unique to Oquendo. A recent study by Pediatrics journal found that almost 50% of kids on the autism spectrum often bolt away from safe settings. On at least one occasion, half of these wandering kids go missing for a period of time. Considering the prevalence of the problem, the technology would certainly help to provide some families with some added peace of mind.
Thankfully, unlike tracking devices used on wild animals, the chips would not need to be implanted in the children themselves. Instead, the chips would be placed in belts, watches, or shoes. While this method seems more humane, interestingly, it’s some parents who seem to want a more permanent solution; their concern is that their children will merely take off the chipped accessory, thereby rendering the GPS device useless.
Tracking devices are by no means entirely reliable. Three years ago, Kristina Vlassenko sprinted from her home and unfortunately later drowned in a pool of water at a construction site. Although she was wearing a monitoring device, it appeared to malfunction and was unable to report the daughter’s location when the family needed that information most.
As someone who regularly speaks out against invasions of privacy and governmental tracking, I’d be lying if I said that I’m super excited by Schumer’s proposal. There’s something Orwellian about using tracking devices on humans. We’ve already seen schools mandate that all students wear ID chips at all times, so this trend toward making tracking devices seem more acceptable is certainly disconcerting.
Despite my concerns, I also readily acknowledge that using tracking devices on children with autism who have a habit of wandering is significantly different than uniformly chipping all kids. In these cases, there is a legitimate and immediate safety concern that can be addressed with this technology, so I’d agree that providing applicable parents with easier access to these devices is beneficial… so long as it remains a parental choice rather than a requirement.
There has been at least one case where parents of an autistic child faced criminal charges for not tracking their child properly. Though the family had a device, they were considered negligent for not having the batteries charged at the time their child ran away. Perhaps that incident poses better questions: should parents be forced to have their autistic children tracked at all times? Moreover, will parents who reject this Big Brother-esque technology be blamed if their children get lost? It’s certainly a complex situation with no easy answers.