6 mins read

Autism Tracking Devices

Should children with autism have tracking devices?

Wandering is a big issue in the world of autism. Autistic children and teenagers wander for various reasons, wherever on the spectrum they land.

When I’ve worked for the Los Angeles Walk Now for Autism Speaks in the past as the volunteer chair, I’ve been in charge of a group of volunteers called the Lost Parent Patrol. Basically, we have a group of 10 to 15 adult volunteers who have one job throughout the event, be ready to look for lost children.

Sometimes, the child is found but has lost his or her parents. Other times, parents come to them and say, “We can’t find our kid.”

It’s all about wandering issues at that event.

At an event like the Los Angeles Walk Now for Autism Speaks, we have approximately 45,000 people in attendance. Many children with autism have trouble in large crowds. They get anxious and want to escape the “noise.” They naturally want to move away from things that bother them.

Autistic kids are not trying to ditch their families, they are typically trying to cope with a stressful situation by getting away from it.

My own son has a different variety of wandering. He has been dog-obsessed for over a year now. If he sees a person walking a dog, he wants to approach that person with the goal of meeting the dog.

Meeting a dog is like a check mark in his brain. “Check, I found another one. Check, another one.”

He sort of gets pulled toward a dog with his little brain talking him into it.

We’ve had to emphasize with him that he is to ASK PERMISSION to go and visit a dog owner and a dog. He not simply to just wander over to a prospective owner/dog.

Most of the time, he does ask permission. He’s not always happy with the answer, however.

He’s getting better at accepting the “no,” even though he doesn’t always love it.

My point is that even my own son has a version of wandering. There’s something in him that pulls him away in an obsessive manner toward something that is comforting.

Is wandering dangerous?

Absolutely. When I discussed wandering with my son, I tell him my biggest fear is that he sees a dog across a street and is so focused on meeting that dog (check made in his brain) that he runs across the street without looking for cars. I tell him it scares me.

There are worse problems in association with wandering.

There has been more than one story of wandering autistics who have been lost. Some of these stories have not ended well.

Again, their reasons for wandering vary, but it is a fear amongst us autism parents.

So, what can we do?

I talk to my child about wandering but is that enough?

What are autism tracking devices?

Recently, the conversation has heated up as to really DOING SOMETHING to track the kids who are at great risk of flight, and therefore at great risk of harm. It a conversation that has been ongoing for quite some time.

My experiences with wandering, as I already stated, have been minor up to this point. My son will “go look for dogs” at a park. Heʼll meet one, see another, run, go meet that dog, see another, run, and on and on, and the next thing heʼs nowhere near where I thought he was supposed to be.

I have always found him, and sometimes scolded him for not telling me that he was going further than I had thought. Still, he’s say he didnʼt realize he had wandered too far from my sight or the area where I expected to find him. He just let his instincts take him away.

But, do I want to put a tracking device on him?

Not really.

Typically when something like that happens, weʼre in a more or less confined area.

Plus, I have had the conversation many times with him about how he does NOT go with anyone but me (or Daddy, the babysitter, etc.).

He knows he does NOT go to a car with a stranger to “take a look at my dog, kid.”

I feel relatively secure with his knowledge and ability to follow these important instructions. He knows he doesnʼt want to scare me, and he knows I will be scared if something happens. He prefers the comfort of Mommy, Daddy, etc. He does try to maintain that focus.

But, what about kids who do lose their focus?

Thatʼs a problem.

I know parents who have kids who walk out of the house and take off.

It’s scary.

I think having a tracking device somehow attached to your child/person with autism is a personal choice.

I think they’re a good idea.

If your autistic person has scared you enough times, if they’ve come that close to have been so gone that you just have to do something, then itʼs something you should consider.

In the past, I havenʼt always been a fan of the “leashing of a child.” But, I am beginning to understand that in some cases, it may be necessary.

Itʼs up to you. Itʼs also up to you to explain the tracking/leashing to your child. Let them know why you’re doing it. For safety. For peace of mind.

There are new devices, via technology, developed for this specific reason. I have seen GPS-type of devices that attach to a pair of glasses and ones that look like wristwatches.

Iʼm for anything that keeps our kids safe. If technological advances can help, then I say try it.

More on Kimberly Kaplan:

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