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.” 

In investigating Kristina’a death, police are trying to figure out why the Care Trak tracking device she was wearing did not work. Says 9News:

…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!


Previous Care2 Coverage

The “Mason Alert” and Summer Safety For Kids With Autism

11-Year-Old with Asperger’s Wanders From Home, Breaks Window To Get Into Target


Photo by Lance Shields.


Trudi Gray
Trudi Gray6 years ago

Please don't dismiss my suggestion as being non-humane, but would it be possible to implant a microchip somewhere on an autistic, no-verbal child's body? I feel that if the tracker devices already in place can fail or be removed by the child in question because it cannot be made to understand why it mustn't remove it, surely this would at least be a way of keeping track on the child?
I am NOT in any way equating the value of that child with the value of any animal, how ever beloved that might be- it's simply a matter of what seems like commonsense to me....if I were in that position, I wouldn't hesitate to have a chip implanted in order to keep my child safe- that, above all has to be paramount.

Jennifer M.
Jennifer M.6 years ago

My biggest fear and I've considered getting one of these tracking devices. Scary!

jane richmond
jane richmond6 years ago

Condolences to the family. Hope to never read a story like this again.

Christine S.

So sad the technology was unable to save her.

Judith Corrigan
Judith Corrigan6 years ago

It is a tricky situation, to have something that could track a vunerable person and it being something that they could not remove easily.I have great admiration for anyone who looks after a person/people that could wander off and not realise the danger.

LisaMaree G.
LisaMaree G.6 years ago

So sad! Parents of children who wander can never rest. My son Liam got ahead of me on a forest path yesterday but fortunately he never strays from our routine so I found him after ten minutes of retracing our steps (under a foot bridge I had already passed) I was hysterical with fear that he'd walked on to the carpark or someone had taken him.
When I called he didn't answer as he was deep into scripting an imaginative routine involving the water & stones - so I'm going to make him wear his iPhone from now on. At least then if I ring it I will hear it and know where he is. Might get school to introduce a task where he answers and describes where he is.

I have 2 kids with autism and I want to get them out into the fresh air and exercise - they can't be cooped up in house all the time. But it is situations like this that make it even harder to take the leap of faith that that "letting them of the lead" involves.
(and yes, after finding him yesterday I DID want to attach him to a lead)

dawn w.
Dawn W6 years ago

Signed & tweeted. Just goes to show that as helpful as technology is,it can't be relied on for everything,100% of the time.Sad.

Judith H.
Judith H6 years ago

condolences to the family

Lynda M.
Lynda Mahoney6 years ago

It is foolish to put so much faith in technology to ensure the safety of your family. There is no substitute for diligent parental supervision.

Empress Ginger
Ginger Strivelli6 years ago

tragic...reminds e to be thankful my 3 autistic children are so high functioning so as not to need a tracking device , and that they can all talk and are not that vulnerable. That being said my 20 year old disappeared out walking the dog last year and we had to call 911, the fire and police and sheriff departments all came and took us hours to find him he'd walked miles away to his high school, and of course had no clue how much danger he'd been in...not to mention the poor dog was worn out, LOL