Child Tracking and Medi-Alert Devices

Lillian*, who has autism, was 4-½ years old at the time. We had been providing in-home early behavioral intervention service for Lillian and her family. She initially only spoke a few words, but was unresponsive to strangers. While she had made marked improvements, she still had many challenges. Lillian was playing with her dad and younger sister in the family’s fenced in back yard in their suburban neighborhood. Dad turned away for seconds to attend to the younger child playing nearby on a blanket, and when he looked back, Lillian was gone. She had disappeared. He called her name and looked for her in the front yard. Nothing, she was gone. With the younger child in tow, he frantically began running up and down the streets in the neighborhood calling her name. A neighbor two houses down from his house told him she thought she saw Lillian climbing over the fence from the family’s back yard, and running off to the south, but she wasn’t sure. Lillian’s dad headed south toward the park. Out of breath, six blocks later he found Loren calmly playing along the edge of a pond. Lillian and her family were very lucky that time, for had she waded into the pond she may slipped and fallen, and not survived.

Newspaper and television reports of missing children with autism who were fortunately safely found like Lillian, or sadly, who died due to exposure or drowning, are all too familiar. An adolescent with Asperger Disorder who had been missing for 11 days, was found living in a subway in New York City. A boy in Cape Breton, Canada was found after wandering away with his dog for days during a blizzard, only to later succumb in hospital. Statistics on the number of missing children with autism each year are difficult to obtain. Parents are understandably terrified at the prospect of losing their child.

Children with autism tend to wander away from home or from parents’ immediate proximity on outings, such as at malls, supermarkets or recreational parks. Sometimes caregivers refer to such children as “runners.” Because children with ASDs often lack language skills, they are often unable to tell a responsible adult who finds them, their name, address and parents’ phone numbers. Their behavior may seem very unusual or even bizarre to police officers or other adults who attempt to assist the child. The more frightened they are, the less capable of communicating. Locating missing children with ASDs and assuring their safety, involves two inter-related problems. First, is locating the lost or wandering child. Second, enabling adults who find the child to recognize the youngster has autism and obtain the necessary information to notify parents.

Locating Devices
World Tracker GPRS

Child locating devices basically come in two types. Those meant for short distance location, usually within buildings or within a relatively small outdoor public setting like a park (Radio Frequency devices), and others for long distance location, using GPS technology, the type used in automobile mapping devices. GPS Magazine published an excellent review of these technologies in its May 2008 issue, The Ultimate Child-Tracker Guide. The following recommendations are from that report.

According to this report, most of the RF devices fall short. “RF tracking devices don't use GPS at all, and instead rely on Radio Frequencies to determine positioning information. RF devices are intended indoor tracking and are aimed at helping parents keep track of kids at the mall, playground, supermarket, or any other short distance.” Two widely advertised devices, Loc8tor Plus and Ion Kids Child Tracking System were not recommended by the GPS Magazine report. When tested, the Ion Kids' performance was poor in public places; like the Loc8tor system, Ion Kids was prone to interference, range was very limited inside shopping malls and supermarkets, and the direction indicator simply didn't work.

“The WorldTracker GPRS is a powerful tracking device: small, lightweight, and an ultra high performance GPS receiver make the WorldTracker GPRS the most powerful tracking device in this roundup. This device worked reliably both indoors and out, and had some of the best web-based location reporting seen to date. It is priced at around $600, monthly service costs $69/month, plus there's a one-time setup fee of $90. That's about $830 per year in service fees alone. The included lithium-ion battery only provides around 8 hours of real-time tracking between charges, so you'll likely want to spring for the extended battery, which will add another $100 to the cost”. These costs place the WorldTracker GPRS outside the affordability range of many families.

Amber Alert GPS shown above, is a balance between features and cost without sacrificing performance. Amber Alert GPS is a relatively inexpensive solution that can track indoors and out, has an SOS button to call for help for under $200. The monthly service costs between $19.99 to $49.99, depending on usage. The SOS button is a nice feature that lets kids send help messages to up to 5 people at once.

Other devices reviewed were either not suitable for some situations or were more appropriate for law enforcement applications or in locating a lost automobile.

Medical Alert Devices

When a child wanders off in a public place and is found by store or park personnel or police officers, it is essential that first the child is identified as having autism, and next that information required to notify his/her parents is readily available.

MedicAlert IDs for Children are bracelets, sports bands or watches worn by the child with stainless steel tag containing the child’s membership number, which is linked to the child’s medical records in the event of an emergency. If a child has a medical condition such as diabetes, epilepsy, autism or allergy that may put them at risk in an emergency, MedicAlert Kid Smart for children 17 and under, ensures the child's medical records are immediately available to emergency responders to help with their treatment decisions. The company’s 24-hour emergency identification services help identify children who are involved in emergencies or lost. MedicAlert will notify parents and any other designated family contacts of the situation. The Emergency Response Center is staffed by medically trained personnel 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Vital medical information is communicated to emergency responders anywhere, in many languages. Kid Smart membership is $15 per year plus a $15 set up charge
Medic-Alert Bracelent
which includes an alert bracelet. MediAlert IDs $30 first year, $15 subsequent years.

Numerous companies sell engraved bracelets, wrist-bands and shoe tags that identify the child has having autism, and usually include a card with identification information and parent contact information. For example, a Pre-Engraved - Autism Medical ID Bracelet, with wallet card made by My Identity Doctor is available from for $29.99. It features a red medical caduceus symbol on front, and on the back, “Autism” is engraved in block black letters to enhance visibility. However, without contact information this may be of limited utility. Kids, Child, - Pink - Girls Medical Alert ID Bracelet, Adjustable Velcro - Medical ID Wallet Card Included by Kid Link, sold by for $11.95 to 14.99. Similar Velcro bracelets in blue and purple in various sizes by age. Child Safety Shoe ID Tag – Blue offered by My Precious Kids LLC priced at $9.95. These tags include a pocket with a contact ID card.

I prefer an identification device that is not confused for ordinary jewelry, such as a Velcro bracelet or beaded necklace. The presence of the red medical caduceus immediately identifies the device as containing important health information, which is greatly to the child’s advantage. Parents may prefer a Medical Alert device that is less conspicuous and “fits in,” but safety comes first. Bracelets or necklaces without contact cards are of limited value.

* A fictitious name but an actual child