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GPS-Equipped Clothing Helps Protect Children with Autism

(Lance Neilson/Flickr Creative Commons)

(Lance Neilson/Flickr Creative Commons)

A new clothing line that uses embedded global positioning system (GPS) tracking technology is helping parents protect autistic children, who are prone to wandering away from their homes or supervised spaces.

The Huffington Post reports Lauren Thierry, a former CNN reporter whose son is autistic, founded Independence Day Clothing in 2014 with the goal of empowering parents and supervisors of children with autism with a tool that allows them to track their location.

Unlike traditional GPS devices, which are usually worn on watches, bracelets or anklets, ID Clothing sews GPS trackers discretely into pockets inside shirts and pants. Each GPS device measures two inches (5 cm) long and weighs less than an ounce (28 grams).

According to a 2012 study funded by the advocacy group Autism Speaks and published in the journal Pediatrics, nearly half the parents of children with autism reported that their children had attempted to wander away at least once since age 4. Most of the parents surveyed said their child had ‘bolted’ for “long enough to cause worry.”

“One out of every 68 babies born today is going to fall somewhere on the autism spectrum. We’re talking about 4.3 million people. I was shocked that someone else hadn’t come up with it,” Thierry said of her idea. She told the Huffington Post that an even smaller unit is in the works.

“The predator can’t see it. The fidgety kid can’t see it or feel it. It’s in a quilted compartment, and it leaves the parent with the ultimate decision-making of who needs to know my kid has a GPS sensor on them,” she said.

Available on ID Clothing’s website, items range in price from $37.50 to $59.50. The GPS device is free, but costs $69.95 to activate, plus a $14.95 monthly subscription charge.

There have been several efforts to incorporate tracking devices into clothing worn by autistic children, including a bill proposed by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) which would allocate $10 million to fund such devices. Called Avonte’s Law, the measure, which has not been approved by Congress, was inspired by Avonte Oquendo, an autistic 14-year-old whose dismembered remains were found on a Queens beach last January, three months after he bolted from his school.

Autism Speaks is also committed to promoting GPS tracking for autistic children. The group recently announced a $98,000 contribution to the tracking program Project Lifesaver, “to provide first-responder agencies with wearable locating technology and training to protect, and when necessary, locate people with autism who are prone to the life-threatening behavior of wandering.”

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