Four months ago an off duty cop Christian Lopez became a hero when he grabbed Ibrahim from the ledge of a rooftop in Brooklyn. Ibrahim is a 6 year old autistic boy who ran out of a Brooklyn school that day without anyone noticing and ended up on a nearby rooftop of a building where Lopez lived. Thankfully this incident had a happy ending unlike a very similar one that happened few years ago when 14 year old Avonte Oquendo, a known flight risk, disappeared from a school in Long Island City in July 2013 never to be found again till several months later in January 2014, when some of his remains washed ashore on a beach in Queens.
Stories of autistic kids wandering away or sometimes running away are not unheard of. About half of autistic children are prone to wandering, according to research published in 2012 in the journal of Pediatrics, and back when this research was published in 2012, wandering had led to the deaths of more than 60 autistic children since 2008. Needless to say, parents of kids on the spectrum live in a constant fear of an incident like Ibrahim’s or God forbid like Avonte’s happening with their child. Can they do something to ensure this does not happen? Well, unfortunately not really, not unless they keep the child chained to them at all times. And who would really want to do that to any child let alone one who suffers from a disorder that makes life an everyday challenge to begin with.
There is however hope in the form of devices like SafetyNet bracelets which transmit radio frequency signals that can help law enforcement to track and find the child in case he or she gets lost or runs away. So while incidents of getting lost cannot completely be avoided, we can ensure the child gets found before anything unfavorable happens to them. When Avonte disappeared, an entire city worth of volunteers and law enforcement for months tried to get into the mind of an autistic 14 year old and retrace his steps without any success. If a device such as this had been on Avonte, it would have been a matter of minutes not even hours before they could have located Avonte and this unspeakable tragedy could have been avoided.
The price tag of approximately $500 per year on these devices is well worth the peace of mind they provide. The irony though is that God does not check the financial status or bank accounts of the families he sends these special kids to. The cost of raising a child on spectrum is nothing short of astronomical for a middle class family. A Harvard study indicates an average lifetime cost of $1.4 million for a person affected by autism that is not complicated by intellectual disability. An estimated 1 in 5 persons with autism also has intellectual disability. This increases the average lifetime cost of care to $2.3 million
Community resources and non-profit foundations that help raise awareness and funds for affected families are much needed today than ever before. Autismspeaks.org lists several such organizations which are doing great work. One such organization, The Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism in the northeast has partnered with Safety Net Tracking in a Safe and Secure Project which donates SafetyNet radio frequency tracking bracelets to Autistic individuals with a history of wandering.
April is Autism Awareness month and so on April 14th HealthProductsforyou.com and AutismEnabled.com are donating 10% of their online sales to Doug Flutie foundation’s Safe and Secure project that provides these precious children with the bracelet of hope.
Flight risk is just one of the many challenges parents of Autistic kids face every single day. This month for those parents, let’s wear blue and spread some hope!