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U.S. Justice Department to fund tracking devices for children with autism

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It was reported Wednesday that the federal government would provide grant money funding GPS tracking devices for children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The devices, which are currently available for Alzheimer's patients, would be issued on a voluntary basis and overseen by local law enforcement agencies.

The announcement came on the heels of tragic news revealing that the remains of 14-year old Avonte Oquendo, a non-verbal child with ASD, were found in New York after he had eloped from his school last October. His parents, as well as Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), have been pushing for stable federal funding of tracking devices for those diagnosed on the autism spectrum.

A study published in 2012 found that nearly half of children with ASD engaged in elopement behaviors, otherwise known as wandering or escape. At greatest risk are children with intellectual deficits, as well as behavioral deficits, particularly those children who possess little to no verbal skills, as well as those who do not respond to their names. The study pointed to the need for increased advocacy and education, particularly for first responders who would need to know what to look for and what to expect when searching for a child with a learning disability.

Many times, children with autism elope due to anxiety or overwhelming situations at home or school, or simply for the urge to explore. Teaching and providing opportunities to escape functionally in a home, school or therapy setting, such as by allowing a child to escape a demand by appropriately communicating their request verbally or non-verbally, may alleviate the urge to elope without a parent or teacher's knowledge.

Despite the efficacy of these behavioral strategies, the availability of GPS tracking devices for children on the spectrum would be an invaluable comfort to those families affected by autism.

A list of available devices can be found by visiting www.AWAARE.org.

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