Tracking Devices Alone Can’t Keep Autistic Kids Safe
Care2 blogger Angela Braun wrote about summer safety and the Mason Alertjust about a month ago as it was starting to get warm. Summer hasn’t quite started but already there’ve been more than a few reports about autistic children wandering, sometimes tragically. WAFB reports that 7-year-old John Hogan, Jr., of North Hogan Creek, Louisiana,was found drowned in a creek on Monday morning; he had been missing since Sunday afternoon and had just moved into the neighborhood. FOX News reports that a 6-year-old autistic boy was found, wearing only a diaper, on a highway off-ramp in Phoenix. He had only been missing for a few minutes and, fortunately, someone called the police immediately.
In the past few years, people have started to use tracking devices, often asmall personal transmitter around an ankle or wrist, to monitor autistic children; the device (you can read more about them at Project Lifesaver_sends out an individualized tracking signal. Children who wandered have indeed been found thanks to these devices but there’s been two recent reports of autistic children wearing the devices, and the devices not working.
10-year-old Kristina Vlassenko was recently found in a water-filled hole at a construction site in Arvada, Colorado; she was wearing a LifeTrak device which apparently did not work because it was submerged in water. In Aurora, Colorado, an 11-year-old autistic boy, Brandon Wells, was missing for several hours on Sunday night. 9 News says that he was wearing a Life Trak device, but the battery was dead and his parents face charges for not charging it. Indeed, they had apparently already faced similar charges:
… [Mike Chylewski, vice president of Care Trak International, the company that owns Life Trak] says the parents or care givers are required to check the device twice a day with a battery tester that is given to them. They are supposed to log when they do it.
Vlassenko’s parents did keep a log. However, according to police Wells’ parents didn’t keep up the battery on their son’s Life Trak device.
“There is some responsibility on the part of the parent. They should be testing the device every day to make sure it is working properly. That is why we supply them with a tester,” Chylewski said.
Kristina’s and Brandon’s stories are also reminders that technology doesn’t provide all the answers for keeping autistic kids and kids with disabilities safe. Here in New Jersey, all police have to have training in autism and, in some recent encounters with them (my own teenage autistic son has wandered), I’ve been pleased to note that not only did they respond immediately, but they knew about autism and were very respectful, asking us about how to address and act towards Charlie. It’s also very gratifying to know that the passerby in Phoenix contacted authorities as soon as the child was seen on the highway: Parents are doing their best to take care of their kids and support from a caring community makes a huge difference.
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