Join CafeMom Today! Autism Amber Alert: Family relies on GPS to locate son with autism
AMBER Alerts are distributed via commercial radio stations, satellite radio, television stations, and cable TV by the Emergency Alert System and NOAA Weather Radio for child abductions only! Children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder are NOT included in the criteria for issuing an Amber Alert. This really needs to change.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Family relies on GPS to locate son with autism

Fearful family relies on device when teen disappears By Jodie Sinnema, Edmonton Journal

Ian Wyatt is an experienced runner.

Across six lanes of highways, miraculously unscathed. Into a stranger's house and onto the couch to watch his favourite shows on the Treehouse channel. Sometimes barefoot or shirtless. Often in his pyjamas. Always to the horror of his family.

Ian has severe autism and limited speech -- although he can dramatically recite the opening of the Law & Order TV show -- and each year, his family knows he'll bolt out of his secured house and disappear.

Until recently, the running episodes typically happened during daylight hours in the spring and fall. The Wyatts work on preventing the escapes by having a complex system of locks on all their doors leading outside, and even keep the keys in a locked food pantry that can only be opened with a numbered code.

But this January during a -30 C night, Ian disappeared in his pyjamas, boots and coat.

Gord and Gail Wyatt went immediately to Ian's usual running targets: neighbourhood houses that, for some reason, Ian has become fixated on. But there was no Ian munching on an apple, pillaged from a stranger's fridge.

Then they called police.

Ian eventually -- and for the first time -- returned home on his own, where his parents found him in the garage.

"He was either scared or really cold and knew he was in trouble," said Gord Wyatt, father to the 17-year-old. "It's absolutely terrifying."

Those heart-pounding, fearful moments prodded the Wyatts to try a GPS system that is capable of tracking Ian when he runs.

The Eye-Zon device, made available to three local families through a pilot program at the Autism Society of Edmonton Area, is smaller than a cellphone and can be tucked into a pocket or slipped around the neck with a lanyard. It sends information by satellite to a computer or cellphone, and provides Ian's running path and location on a map, as well as his speed.

"When people go missing, it takes a lot of resources to find them," said Karen Phillips, program director of the autism society.

Phillips worked with Edmonton Police Services to find solutions. The autism society borrowed three GPS devices from Eye-Zon to test them out. Eye-Zon is also considering contributing a portion of their proceeds from the devices to the autism society to help families who can't afford the units, Phillips said.

Although Ian wears the device around his neck at school, it's too big and awkward for him to keep it on in bed at night. Sewing little pouches onto various pieces of clothing to hold the device might only work in some situations.

"Short of a GPS chip like what Jason Bourne had in his back, what do you do?" Gord Wyatt said in jest, referring to the action film featuring a secret agent who is tracked through an electronic chip implanted under his skin. Yet Gord Wyatt is still optimistic the Eye-Zon device could help keep Ian safe.

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