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Providing Tracking Devices To Children With Autism in Putnam County

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Callum Porch, with his parents, receiving his tracking anklet. Callum is autistic and has a tendency to wander. Photo Courtesy Putnam Project Lighthouse.

For families with autistic children or a family member with dementia, having a loved one go missing is a nightmare.

Roughly half of children with autism “attempt to elope from a safe environment,” the National Autism Association said, while the Alzheimer’s Association said that six in 10 people with dementia will wander.

Now a nonprofit group, the Putnam Project Lighthouse, provides GPS tracking devices — in the form of bracelets — to people with a history of wandering.

Leigh Merryday Porch is a blogger, mother and founder of Project Lighthouse. Her 6-year-old son, Callum, has classic autism and has a tendency to elope, or leave his safe area.

“I probably receive at least two links per week regarding autistic children and adults who’ve wandered,” Porch said.

Porch’s family has been touched three times by autism, and she started the program to protect her son and others like him. The fact that it can also be used to help dementia and Alzheimer’s patients is a huge bonus, she said.

The Putnam Project Lighthouse is a member of Project Lifesaver International, which has been a leader in tracking technology for 17 years. They officially launched on Tuesday with the support of the Putnam County School Board, the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office, the Sunrise Rotary of Palatka and others. During the event, 6-year-old Callum was the first to receive a bracelet, followed by another child named Jayden Brown. 

An estimated 2,100 Putnam residents, including children with autism and adults with dementia, might benefit from the program, said Porch.

The equipment provided by Project Lighthouse comes in two programs. One is a transmitter program recommended for nonverbal clients.

“If the wearer goes missing, 911 sends deputies out with a receiver that will locate the client,” Porch said.

The second option is a GPS program that is tethered to a cell phone. This option is recommended for clients who may be more mobile, such as those with dementia who may be driving.

Depending on the program a person enrolls in, the device can cost between $250 and $300. For families who can’t afford a device, Project Lighthouse will hold fundraisers.

With the help of the Sunrise Rotary of Palatka, Project Lighthouse will do the first of two rib sales beginning Dec. 11, with another scheduled for the spring. The sales should bring in approximately $10,000, said Porch. Project Lighthouse has also received a grant from The Heal Foundation for $2,000.

The U.S. Department of Justice also gave them $5,000 for start-up money.

In 2014, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York asked the Justice Department to expand one of their grant programs to help bring Project Lifesaver to a law enforcement agency in need. This was prompted by the death of Avonte Oquendo, an autistic teen who died as a result of wandering.

For Amanda Brown, the mother of 7-year-old Jayden who received Project Lighthouse’s second device, the bracelet has meant greater peace of mind.

While she said she’s not planning on taking her eyes off her son for even a second, the bracelet is an extra blanket of security. Her son is not bothered by the bracelet, Brown said.

“It hasn’t really impacted him at all,” she said. “He kinda fiddled with it when he first got it, but it’s like it’s not even there anymore.”

About Mauhe Almeida

Mauhe is a reporter who can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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3 comments

  1. We have twin 8 year olds that have Autism, are non verbal and wander/run/bolt. It can be soooo scary to deal with. The device attaches to their clothing and can our boys cannot remove it. It takes a special key to remove it.
    We have been using Angelsense GPS guardian for over a year. The device is usually discounted and we pay 39.99/mo for the 1st and 29.99/mo for the 2nd one. A small price to pay for the peace of mind it brings us.
    The device lets us know when they leave a location we have named. It tells us if they are in an unknown location, and important for us as well, we can track in real time where they are, from where we are. It was developed by parents of children / family with special needs, and the customer service is handled by moms who use the device – so they are all customers first.
    We love it and recommend it for anyone in this situation. They have a website and facebook page angelsense.com

  2. Definitely a great device to have. I love my angelsense.com device and have used it for my boy for two years. It gives me great peace of mind to keep track of him throughout the day.

  3. No doubt Angelsense device is a good one. but for me right now im using Trackimo as my GPS tracker for my son and it works perfectly fine for me and been using the device for 7months for now and still works great. if you have a doubt about trackimo and its performance and features you can visit their website http://www.trackimo.com to know more about the device

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