Meeting NewsPerspective

Tracking devices reduce wandering frequency, risk among children with autism

Tracking devices using radio, Bluetooth or GPS technology significantly reduce the frequency and associated risks of wandering behavior among children with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disorders, as well as minimizing parental anxiety, according to survey results presented at the 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting.

“Despite the development of several types of electronic tracking devices aimed at helping to reduce risks related to wandering by children with autism and other developmental disorders, currently there are no published findings regarding the effectiveness of these devices or their impact on families,” Laura McLaughlin, BS, a developmental and behavioral pediatrics research assistant at the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center, said in a press release.

Andrew Adesman
Andrew Adesman

To assess the impact of these devices on families who care for a child with autism, researchers conducted an anonymous online questionnaire. This survey, which was sent to autism organizations and further distributed to families, provided the researchers with information regarding demographics, developmental diagnoses and their severity, past wandering behavior and the strategies implemented to prevent it.

Participants also included information about their use of tracking devices; for those who opted to not use a device, questions concerning quality of life in the past year, while those who did use devices answered questions regarding their quality of life before use and after implementation. Data collected were included for those residing within the U.S. between the ages of 4 and 18 years with  a diagnosis of ASD (n = 1,345).

According to results, 23.8% of surveyed parents had previously used more than one tracking device. Parents who reported current use claimed that “peace of mind” was their top reason for purchasing a device.

The use of a device also affected parental decision regarding where their children with ASD can spend time, including with friends and families when a parent is not available (87.1%); when a device was used, only 60% of parents reported this worry. The researchers noted improved quality of life in 95.6% of surveys after implementation (46.6% “somewhat better;” 49.1% “much better”).

“In recent years, parents and professionals have become increasingly aware of not only the dangers associated with wandering by children with autism, but also the emotional toll this places on families and the limits it imposes on activities,” Andrew Adesman, MD, FAAP, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center, said in the release. “Given the magnitude of safety risks and parental concerns, it is important to find evidence-based solutions that reduce the likelihood of injury to children and can provide parents with less reason for worry.” —by Katherine Bortz.

Reference:

Adesman A, et al. Abstract. Presented at: The Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting; May 6-9, 2017; San Francisco, CA.

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.

Tracking devices using radio, Bluetooth or GPS technology significantly reduce the frequency and associated risks of wandering behavior among children with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disorders, as well as minimizing parental anxiety, according to survey results presented at the 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting.

“Despite the development of several types of electronic tracking devices aimed at helping to reduce risks related to wandering by children with autism and other developmental disorders, currently there are no published findings regarding the effectiveness of these devices or their impact on families,” Laura McLaughlin, BS, a developmental and behavioral pediatrics research assistant at the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center, said in a press release.

Andrew Adesman
Andrew Adesman

To assess the impact of these devices on families who care for a child with autism, researchers conducted an anonymous online questionnaire. This survey, which was sent to autism organizations and further distributed to families, provided the researchers with information regarding demographics, developmental diagnoses and their severity, past wandering behavior and the strategies implemented to prevent it.

Participants also included information about their use of tracking devices; for those who opted to not use a device, questions concerning quality of life in the past year, while those who did use devices answered questions regarding their quality of life before use and after implementation. Data collected were included for those residing within the U.S. between the ages of 4 and 18 years with  a diagnosis of ASD (n = 1,345).

According to results, 23.8% of surveyed parents had previously used more than one tracking device. Parents who reported current use claimed that “peace of mind” was their top reason for purchasing a device.

The use of a device also affected parental decision regarding where their children with ASD can spend time, including with friends and families when a parent is not available (87.1%); when a device was used, only 60% of parents reported this worry. The researchers noted improved quality of life in 95.6% of surveys after implementation (46.6% “somewhat better;” 49.1% “much better”).

“In recent years, parents and professionals have become increasingly aware of not only the dangers associated with wandering by children with autism, but also the emotional toll this places on families and the limits it imposes on activities,” Andrew Adesman, MD, FAAP, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center, said in the release. “Given the magnitude of safety risks and parental concerns, it is important to find evidence-based solutions that reduce the likelihood of injury to children and can provide parents with less reason for worry.” —by Katherine Bortz.

Reference:

Adesman A, et al. Abstract. Presented at: The Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting; May 6-9, 2017; San Francisco, CA.

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.

    Perspective
    Chung-Hyuk Park

    Chung-Hyuk Park

    Wandering children with autism spectrum disorder or developmental disorders is indeed a serious issue, posing critical safety concerns for the children as well as a significant amount of stress for the parents. This study provides a good survey on the positive impacts of using electronic tracking devices (ETDs) to decrease the frequency of wandering and increase the quality of life for the parents.

    It is notable that the researchers performed the survey on a large number of families, focusing on the use of ETDs. Although the abstract does not provide the details of the ETDs, I believe this study and related future work will be useful in informing parents about the types of technological support they can get, the exact specifications, and any limitations. I also hope this could invite more researchers to develop better technological support for increasing the safety and quality of life of children with autism and their families.

    • Chung-Hyuk Park, PhD
    • Assistant professor of biomedical engineering School of Engineering and Applied Science The George Washington University

    Disclosures: Park reports no relevant financial disclosures.

    Perspective
    Maria del Pilar Trelles Thorne

    Maria del Pilar Trelles Thorne

    When a 5-year-old child wanders off alone, there is always the hope that a good Samaritan will stop and try to help them; however, a child or adolescent with autism or other developmental disorder may not raise the same kind of alarm in their appearance to alert a passerby that they need help.

    I know wandering can be a great cause for concern among parents of children with autism, especially those who are nonverbal and cannot ask for help to find their way home. In these cases, an electronic tracking device could significantly improve quality of life for a parent worried about their child wandering away in the supermarket or, worse, outside the home while the family is asleep.

    I am not aware of any sort of controversy surrounding the use of tracking devices, and I couldn’t imagine why there would be. If these devices have been shown to be safe, and will not cause any harm to the child or additional anxiety for the parents, I think they definitely have a role to play in the ongoing care of children with autism. Especially today, when many parents can access some sort of child ‘tracking device’ through their child’s cellphone, this is conversation that can be had with parents about the benefits of these tracking devices and possible improvements in quality of life.

    It is our responsibility to offer our families everything we can to help them care for their child: if technology can fill in some of the gaps, we are lucky to be in this age and time where we have it.

    • Maria del Pilar Trelles Thorne, MD
    • Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Mount Sinai Saint Luke’s Hospital

    Disclosures: del Pilar Trelles Thorne reports no relevant financial disclosures.

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