Should Children with Autism Be Made to Wear Tracking Devices?

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.


Past Member
Past Member about a year ago

Autistic people usually "wander" or "bolt" because they are experiencing some kind of sensory overload, and are trying to dissociate. If "it's bad enough" to need a tracking device, the parents need to be looking at environmental factors to ensure the comfort of their child. Tacking a tracker on these kids is not addressing the actual problem of WHY the child is wandering.

Martha Ferris
Martha F3 years ago

The technology should be available for all caregivers to use or not use who are responsible for those who may wander. It should be a discussion between the caregiver and the involved physician. The government need not get involved.

Kat Lover
Rekha S3 years ago

They shouldn't have to but it can just be an option that is available for them if they want to.

Michael A.
Michael A3 years ago


Vicky P.
Vicky P3 years ago

I'm not sure, it should be left up to the parents if they feel it's bad enough that they need this, then do it

Arild Warud

I'm not sure..........

Andrea Johnson
Andrea Johnson3 years ago

It should be up to the parents, not manditory

Rose Becke3 years ago

This should be the parents choice

Laura Saxon
.3 years ago

Yes. It would help find them more quickly if they wandered off or got lost. Thanks for sharing.

Suzan F.
Suzan F3 years ago

As a parent of an autistic son, I would not want this idea forced on me. I would be more open to it as long as I had a choice. I can say that either me, my husband, or both of us, are with our boy all the time. He doesn't go anywhere without one or both of us. I realize this option is not available to all parents, though, so it would be a good idea for them.