Parents of children with autism often have a lot of things on their plate, one of which is worrying about their child wandering away. Technology and devices are now being used more often to help parents track their children and keep them out of danger.
“There are many different types of technologies, from wearable locating devices to communication apps, that can be part of a multifaceted safety plan for a child with autism who tends to wander,” explains Lindsay Naeder, senior director of mission delivery for Autism Speaks.
In 2018, the CDC reported that approximately 1 in 59 children is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. Children with autism tend to wander for several reasons, including looking to escape an anxious situation, pursuing a special interest, or wanting to go to a favorite place. Bodies of water and busy streets can be extremely dangerous for kids with autism who wander from safety.
Consider these statistics from a 2018 study by the journal Pediatrics:
- Nearly half of all children with autism tried to wander off at least once after the age of 4
- 65% of the cases involved a close call with traffic
- 24% of the cases involved a close call with drowning
Numbers like these emphasize the need for parents to have a multifaceted safety plan for their child.
Types of Devices to Track Children with Autism
If you’re looking to use technology to help keep track of a child with autism who may wander off, it’s important to know what each item does and its limitations.
“Locating devices are typically portable or wearable and can be carried in a backpack or worn on the wrist or ankle,” says Naeder, who tells Parentology that the most common devices use either radio frequency or GPS systems. Lower tech options can include anything from wearable ID tags to scannable QR codes or medical alert bracelets. These types of things can provide vital information in the case of an emergency.
Features like battery life, ease of use, and cost can all factor in when deciding which type of technology to choose.
What Else Can Parents Do to Keep Their Kids Safe?
While technology is a great tool, it needs to be part of a bigger safety plan. We all know that as great as technology is, it can fail at times and has its downfalls.
“Other safety strategies to consider are providing lessons in swimming and water safety, adding wandering prevention to the child’s [individualized education program] at school, alerting trusted neighbors and introducing your child to local first responders,” advises Naeder.
It’s also important to remember that the safety needs of a child with autism can change as they get older. As a parent, it’s important to recognize these changes, always update your safety plan, and perhaps the technology you choose to use.