Fort Worth, Texas,
13:24 PM

New Law Aims to Provide GPS Tracking for Children with Autism

The new government spending package includes money to pay for GPS tracking devices for families affected by autism.

Kevin & Avonte’s Law will give $2 million annually until 2022 for grants to local law enforcement and nonprofit agencies. The money can be used to provide parents and caregivers the opportunity to voluntarily apply non-invasive tracking technology attached to their children to help locate them if they have wandered away from home.

Nearly half of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) older than 4 years of age are reported to wander, or elope, from home.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states that of those children, “one-quarter of families report at least one episode that placed their child at risk for drowning, and two-thirds report risk for traffic-related accidents.” Accidents are the most common cause of death for children, youths and adults with ASD.

“I am pleased to see bipartisan support for individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities and am encouraged by this legislation,” said Matt Robison, LMSW, director of the Cook Children’s Child Study Center . “Given the large number of individuals with autism who may elope or wander from home or school, having resources available in the community to help keep them safe is critically important. Having a community that is both equipped to deal with and aware of the potential safety risks for this vulnerable population goes a long way in ensuring their safe return home.”

Kevin and Avonte’s Law is named in honor of two boys with autism who died after wandering. The grants from the law will facilitate training and emergency protocols for school personnel, supply first responders with additional information and resources, and make locating technology programs available for people who may wander from safety.

“Impulsiveness is present in at least half of individuals with ASD, who also may not understand or attend to environmental danger,” according to the AAP. “People with ASD may leave a situation that they find stressful when overstimulated, anxious, confused or afraid. They may become upset at times of transition or commotion, or in new or unfamiliar settings and try to leave.”

Another issue is that an intense interest in water may cause someone with ASD to seek it out, causing an increased risk for drowning.

“Elopement is a common and dangerous behavior seen in about half of children with autism,” said Joyce Mauk, M.D., a neurodevelopmental pediatrician at Cook Children’s and CEO/medical director of the Cook Children’s Developmental Pediatrics and Child Study Center. “It occurs more commonly in children with more severe developmental delays. When this happens it’s of great concern because children can face dangers of drowning or traffic injury when they run away.”

Dr. Mauk says children with ASD most frequently run away from the home, but can escape their caregivers in various community settings. Dr. Mauk says she has seen teen-aged patients run away and cross several busy urban intersections before finally being found. But even when someone tries to help, it may not guarantee safety for the children who have eloped.

“Because children with autism may have poor communication skills, they may not give reliable parental contact information when they are found,” Dr. Mauk said.

Dr. Mauk recommends the following for parents to safe-guard their children with ASD:

  • Use a medic alert bracelet or tag for children who are known to elope.
  • Look into GPS trackers that can be worn attached to shoes.
  • In cases where this is a severe problem of the child bolting from his or her parents, the child may even need to be contained in large strollers when the family is out.
  • At home closed and locked doors are helpful.

But in the end, Dr. Mauk stresses that nothing beats close care-giver supervision.

Other Resources:

Cook Children’s Developmental Pediatrics and the Child Study Center

National Autism Association website

Family Wandering Emergency Plan

AAP: Anticipatory guidance for children with autism should address wandering

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