by Vilissa K. Thompson, LMSW
Last week, the Justice Department announced that it would promptly make funding available to provide free tracking devices for children with autism. The devices will be provided to families with children who are at risk, or have a history of, wandering and elopement. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder stated that the Department already has the funding needed to make this technology available. Police departments have been given the green light to apply for the funding; departments can used the funding awarded to pay for tracking devices to be allocated to families that want them. This new plan is modeled after the federal program in place that supplies similar devices to families of those with Alzheimer’s disease.
The wandering and elopement of children with autism has gained much attention due to the tragic passing of Avonté Oquendo, a 14 years old teen who went missing in New York in mid-October. So many across the nation had hoped and prayed for Avonté’s safe return to his family, including yours truly. Avonté’s story shone a spotlight on the thousands of children with special needs who are reported missing each year in this country.
The numbers regarding those with disabilities who are reported missing are astounding. In 2012, there were 30,269 individuals with disabilities who were reported missing, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (the FBI) National Crime Information Center (NCIC). Of that figure, 3,570 were those under the age of 21, and 26,699 were those age 21 and older. The number of children missing in 2012 were noticeably less than what was reported in 2011. In 2011, 6,340 of those reported missing with a disability were under the age of 21. If we were to combine those figures, almost 10,000 children with disabilities were missing within the past three years.
The focus on those with autism is dire because children with autism spectrum disorders have a higher risk of wandering and eloping than children with other special needs. It has been noted that about half of children with autism will wander and elope; close to one-third of these children are nonverbal, and are unable to communicate their identities to someone if they are spotted. Children with autism who wander from safe environments such as their homes or school grounds, have a tendency to seek bodies of water, or may have interests with active highways, trains, and the like. Any of these predicaments or fascinations could cause the child to place her or himself in harm’s way while they attempt to “explore” these new surroundings.
The action taken by the Justice Department and U.S. Attorney General Holder is encouraging; the needs of people with disabilities, especially our children, are on the consciousness of those on the federal level. This new technology has the potential to save the lives of our children, as well as others who may wander from their safe environments.
What are your thoughts about this new initiative? Is your family one of many in this country who could benefit from using these tracking devices? If you are currently utilizing a tracking device to keep your loved one(s) safe, what benefits or drawbacks of this technology have you experienced? Share your thoughts and stories regarding this subject with me.
(Featured headlining image: Courtesy of Digital Trends.)
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