Under legislation proposed by Senator Chuck Schumer in late January 2014, the federal government will pay for GPS tracking devices for kids with autism in New York under "Avonte's Law." But, would you put a GPS device on your kids? Find out the details about this law and how it may affect kids diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
Photo credit: Laura Natividad/ Flickr Open/Getty Images

Avonte's Law

Avonte Oquendo, a 14-year-old teen with severe autism, was last seen running out of his Long Island City school in October 2013. For weeks following his disappearance, the New Year Police Department and masses of volunteers swept the city to find the nonverbal missing teen. Sadly, the remains of a teenager were found in the East River in early January 2014, and DNA testing confirmed the match to Avonte.

But, thanks to legislature proposed by Senator Charles Schumer, the U.S. Department of Justice has agreed to fund voluntary GPS tracking devices for New York kids with autism spectrum disorders or other special needs that put them at risk of wandering. The system will be similar to the federal program that tracks seniors with Alzheimer's disease.

Autism and wandering

The occurrence of wandering in adults, teens and kids with autism is more common than you may think. Just one day after the announcement of federal funding of GPS tracking devices for kids with autism, 12-year-old Brandon Betancourt, another autistic boy from Queens, was reported to have bolted as his mother was putting his younger sibling on the bus for school. Luckily, after a quick 911 call by the mother and a united response by law enforcement, Autism Speaks and The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Brandon was found unharmed approximate five hours later.

A study performed in 2012 by Autism Speaks found that nearly half of kids with autism spectrum disorder attempt to wander or bolt, resulting in nearly half of these wandering children going missing.

A study performed in 2012 by Autism Speaks found that nearly half of kids with autism spectrum disorder attempt to wander or bolt, resulting in nearly half of these wandering children going missing. It's also important to note that researchers reported evidence supporting that autism-related cases of wandering are not caused by careless parenting. But, are GPS tracking devices the answer?

Should you GPS-track your kids?

The BuddyTagWhen it comes to kids with autism spectrum disorders, especially those who are prone to wandering, many parents agree to the sanity-saving benefits of investing In a Bluetooth tracking or GPS device for kids, like The BuddyTag, especially when you have six children like Holly Snow of Fairview, Texas. "When I am using the BuddyTag it warns me before my kids can wander off. That is the best part!" And Kim Estes of Savvy Parents Safe Kids agrees, so long as it is for the right reasons. "GPS tracking is helpful if your older child is at risk for wandering away, are engaging in at risk behavior or are at risk for running away."

But, for kids who are not at risk, the opposition parents such as Angie Six of The Risky Kids have is for the message a tracking device sends to your children, not about the technology itself. "An issue I have with GPS tracking on kids is the undertone of anxiety it places on daily life. By slapping on a watch or any other device, we're implying that the possibility of something really bad happening is very real. It also sends a message that we don't trust them."

I've got Find my iPhone turned on because my phone is really valuable. My child is infinitely more valuable than a smartphone.

However, it is hard to argue the obvious benefits of tracking your kids with technology, whether it's via cell phone, GPS or Bluetooth device. "GPS isn't a substitute for parenting my child," clarifies Miranda Palmer, LMFT, of zynnyme.com. "But, I've got Find my iPhone turned on because my phone is really valuable. My child is infinitely more valuable than a smartphone."

Regardless of your stance on the question, "Would you put a GPS device on your kids?" the strides Avonte's Law is making for kids with autism spectrum disorder is indisputable. For more information on how to safeguard your autistic children who are prone to wandering, visit Autism Speaks' wandering resources page for tips and advice to keep your kids safe.

Video of Avonte running from his Center Boulevard School after an adult exited the building and left the door open can be found here:

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