Researchers, product developers and investors met to showcase and discuss innovative technology for managing autism-related wandering at a special session of the Autism Speaks Autism Investment Conference, in San Francisco today.
Close to half of children with autism wander from safety. Wandering is likewise a danger among many adults with autism. More than a third of these individuals can’t communicate their name, address or phone number. And many lack a clear sense of danger or an understanding of how to interact with police and other emergency responders.
For all these reasons, autism-related wandering puts tremendous stress on families and entire communities – too often with tragic results, said session moderator Dave Kearon (pictured left), Autism Speaks assistant director of adult services. Prevention and response require multi-faceted approaches with significant emphasis on education of first responders and other community members, Kearon stressed.
“Many families have found that technology such as locating devices is helpful,” he said. “So while we know this approach doesn’t work for everyone, we hope that by connecting device developers and other entrepreneurs with the investment community, these devices can become part of a comprehensive wandering prevention strategy.”
Kearon introduced two special guests who served as the showcase’s educators and advisors:
Gene Saunders, founder and CEO of Project Lifesaver International, described his organization’s mission to help communities launch speedy rescues in response to autism- and dementia-related wandering. The organization partners with local law enforcement and public safety organizations to train search teams. It also equips individuals at risk of wandering with wristbands that emit an identifying radio frequency. The program has produced more than 1,800 successful searches, Saunders said. Most individuals are found within a few miles of home, with an average rescue time of 30 minutes. That’s nearly half the average time of a standard search.
The session’s company showcase featured four innovative approaches to wandering prevention and response:
Lauren Thierry, founder of Independence Day Clothing, described her line of adaptive clothing with “hidden helpers” that reduce dressing time and stress. The clothing comes with optional, built-in GPS. Its motto: “No Tags. No Buttons. No Zippers. No worries.”
Tony Fama, president and CEO of iLoc Technologies, described how his son, who has autism, wandered from the family at a crowded theme park in 2009. He was eventually found safe. But the stressful experience launched a company dedicated to developing affordable wandering solutions. The firm’s TRiLOC GPS Locator is a wristband device that broadcasts location over a cellular network.
John Harris, of eTrak, described his firm’s wearable location device, which allows caregivers to draw boundaries around safe locations. When the person wearing the device roams beyond the safe zone, the caregiver receives an alert that includes directions to the location.
Saul Bienenfeld, of Trackimo, showcased the company’s device of the same name. Compact and equipped with a long-lasting battery, the device offers worldwide locating service via the Trackimo website.
“We desperately need actionable steps for preventing and responding effectively to wandering incidents,” Kearon said in thanking the participants. “Autism Speaks is proud to shine a spotlight on how your innovative products can help address this alarming challenge.”
For complete coverage of Autism Speaks Autism Investment Conference 2014, click here.