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U. S. Justice Department Agrees to Fund Autism Tracking Devices

Aims To Keep So-Called ‘Runners’ Out Of Danger

Sen. Charles E. Schumer announced that the Department of Justice (DOJ) would immediately allow existing grant funds to be used to fund voluntary tracking devices through local law enforcement agencies for children who have autism or other developmental disorders in whichbolting” from parents or caregivers is common.

As described, the voluntary program would only be for parents who choose to use the devices.

Schumer has pushed for this program in light of the Avonte Oquendo tragedy. Oquendo, a 14- year-old boy with autism, bolted from a school in Queens in October; his remains washed up on the banks of the East River in College Point last month.

The federal government already provides grant funding for similar devices to track seniors with Alzheimer’s, and Schumer said that DOJ would allow for grant funds to include children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The senator stressed that the program would be totally voluntary for parents, would be run by police departments or other local law enforcement entities, and would also provide funding for training of individuals on how to use and maintain these devices.

Parents, schools, and law enforcement would all have to choose to participate. Massachusetts already has a successful program to help locate children with autism that wander from their safe place.

The commitment was made by Attorney General Eric Holder at a Congressional hearing last Wednesday morning, Jan. 29. It follows this week’s announcement that Schumer would introduce “Avonte’s Law” that would create and fund an entirely new grant program within DOJ that would provide this type of funding. Schumer said that because Avonte’s Law would increase funding and provide a more stable funding stream, he would still be pushing it despite the progress announced today.

“The sights and sounds of NYC and other busy places can be overstimulating and distracting for children and teens with Autism, often leading to wandering as a way to escape. Voluntary tracking devices will help our teachers and parents in the event that the child runs away and, God forbid, goes missing,” said Schumer. “DOJ already funds these devices for individuals with Alzheimer’s and they have done the right thing in deciding to do the same for children with autism spectrum disorder. I’d like to thank Eric Holder and his staff for their commitment to this issue, and for instituting this measure to protect the vulnerable.”

“Bolting,” running, or wandering is common among children and teens with Autism. This is technically called elopement, which is the tendency to leave a safe place. Children and teens who exhibit this behavior tend to be at the severe end of ASD.

Children and teens with autism tend to run for various reasons, including avoiding a demand or situation, sensory overload, or accessing something or someone that they care about. These individuals often have a significant lack of impulse control and may also lack significant safety awareness. An everyday environment for a typical developing child may create anxiety and be intolerable for a child or teen with autism; this may lead to running or wandering.

Tracking technology includes personal locating devices that can prevent tragedy when individuals wander from school or home, and are lost. Tracking devices can be worn as non-tampering wristwatches, anklets, or clipped onto belt loops or onto shoelaces.

When users of the device are missing, the caregiver/school system notifies the device company and a trained emergency team responds to the area. Most who wander are found within a few miles from home.

Recovery time for Project Lifesaver users, a maker of one of the devices, average 30 minutes which is 95 percent less time than it takes to find those without these tracking devices. Schumer noted that these devices should be used in conjunction with other educational and behavior supports.

According to study conducted by the Interactive Autism Network and AWAARE, 49 percent of children and teens with Autism attempt to run, or wander. Of those who attempted to run, 53 percent of the children were missing long enough to cause serious concern.

According to AWAARE and the National Autism Association, of these children, 74 percent run or wander from their own home or from someone else’s home, 40 percent run or wander from stores and 29 percent run or wander from schools. Close calls with traffic injuries were reported for 65 percent of the missing children and close calls with drowning were reported for 24 percent of the missing children.

Running and wandering in children and teens with Autism takes an enormous toll on families and caregivers. 56 percent of parents reported running as one of the most stressful behaviors they have had to cope with as caregivers of a child with Autism. 50 percent of parents reported receiving little guidance on preventing or addressing this common behavior.

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