Sometime last year following Senator Schumer’s (NY) announcement that the Federal Government was going to release existing funding to cover GPS tracking devices for those with Autism who are prone to wander, I called my local police department to see what was up on these devices and when they were going to get some. Like many parents of children with Autism, they worry about the risk of wandering. Almost half of those with Autism wander. This is an extremely stressful situation for both the person affected by Autism and their family, further complicated by communication barriers and factors contributing to over-stimulation. My child wanders, we haven’t had an incident in several months but the fear is still there. We have the door and window alarms, the “stop” signs as visual prompts plastered on the doors and windows, the school is aware and educated on his wandering and triggers, the neighbors are aware, he has id tags and bracelets, and yet we still have that fear. Several of the GPS tracking devices that we looked into getting were not only expensive outright, but had monthly fees associated and if we were even able to take on the extra expense of the device and monthly operation, we still wouldn’t be able to obtain the device as it wasn’t serviceable in our area. So, having our local police department distribute the devices throughout the community to the families that needed them seemed like the most logical idea. They would be able to service our area without us spending an enormous amount of money we use for therapy. However, I was met with block after block after block. They claimed that they had no idea what I was talking about, which I gave them the benefit of the doubt being as how I called them pretty much right after the funding was announced. I did more research, found out that the funding is available under an already existing grant program, and they still didn’t want any part of what I had to say. I was then told that our Autism population isn’t all that large and that there weren’t many incidents of wandering. To that, I said that because most were probably found before the need to call the police, like my son was. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t vulnerable, and that is not good enough reason to not do anything. I was infuriated, but not enough to keep advocating that my department apply for these funds, but I’m not giving up anymore and I am going to document my progress along the way. Perhaps my journey and struggle can help others as well.
For starters, let’s talk about how the process is supposed to work should you be successful in convincing your local pd to obtain these devices for your community. The US Department of Justice released existing grant funds to be used to fund voluntary tracking devices. It is available through the Justice Department’s Byrne Grant, which is a grant program that law enforcement uses to pay for various programs, equipment, training, etc. This isn’t additional funding, but they are using funding that is already there and expanding it to include individuals that have Autism and other intellectual disabilities. The funding goes directly to the law enforcement agency, not the family, as it is the law enforcement agency’s responsibility to set the program up and monitor the equipment.
What law enforcement is to do is apply for the grant to pay for the devices, training, and education relating to wandering. They would then create their own program, determine who would receive the devices, how many are to distributed, etc. The funding and the Byrne Grant is available nationwide, it is important that you encourage your local law enforcement agency to apply for this grant if they haven’t already done so.
If you are looking into getting a personal device, check with http://awaare.nationalautismassociation.org/tracking-technology/