My friend and fellow advocate Susan loves to tell this story. One morning she woke up and her son was gone. He is autistic and has limited speaking ability. Before panic was able to set in, a neighbor called to say they had found him. He was sitting on their living room couch. It was a house that he had good memories of and liked being there. So, he woke up and decided to go.
Sure, 20 years later, it’s a “yikes!” and somewhat funny story. This was long before AngelSense was invented. Other families are not so lucky and too many stories of wandering autistic children end in tragedy.
“Is Angel Sense allowed at school? My school says it isn’t.”
In our Facebook group, this question seems to be coming up more frequently lately. I think that this question has come up often enough that it would help to list it all in one spot.
What is Angel Sense?
Thanks to technology, we now are able to attach GPS devices to our kids. Angel Sense is one of the better-known ones, but there are others on the market. If your child is an eloper or a wanderer, these devices are designed to give you peace of mind.
Well, there are some things you may not have considered.
Is AngelSense legal at schools?
Maybe. My disclaimer is this: I am not a lawyer nor do I play one on the internet. As an advocate, my professional advice is never to try and catch schools in a “gotcha!” because it’s rarely successful. That same advice applies here, but please read on.
Take a look at the AngelSense features advertised on their website:
So, do you see the concerns?
I do not own one of these devices and I am not arguing for or against them. I am merely giving you items to consider.
Other children and teachers are entitled to their privacy. Additionally, many states have 2-party consent laws, meaning that both parties have to consent to be recorded.
It’s impossible for a child to get consent forms for every person they come into contact with during the day. And I don’t want my child’s activities being recorded throughout the day without my knowledge, do you?
I want all kids to be safe. I want my child to have his privacy. The two are not mutually exclusive. We can do both.
Another item to consider–please, please do not just “hmph, I’m going to do this anyway!” and try to hide it on your child. If your situation is that dire, the child likely should not be in that placement. And you could end up getting in significant legal trouble.
According to their website, Angel Sense says that it has added a “school” setting where you can turn this off during the day.
My overall point is: Check with your school before you send your child with this attached to them.
Every time this topic comes up in my Facebook group, the device itself gets rave reviews. You may want to ask your insurance company to cover this. My guess is that they will say “no!” and you’ll have to do an insurance appeal. Whether or not you want to choose that battle is up to you.
In any event, these devices aren’t cheap, so I would make sure that you talk with other parents who have used it.
Angel Sense at School
The IEP team should be discussing the following points.
- Does this child really need to be GPS tracked?
- Is the situation or placement unsafe?
- What behavioral and other supports are in place?
- What other methods/options have been tried?
- How many FBAs have been done in relation to the eloping?
- What are your state’s recording laws?
- Make sure that your school is aware of the specifics of the device, including the recording settings that can be turned off.
- What are your school’s privacy and other policies related to this?
- Is the child aware of the device, understand what it does, recognize the necessity and agree with it?
- Is there a chance that the child will just remove the device anyway?
Angel Sense or GPS on your IEP
As with every other IEP issue, if you want Angel Sense added to your child’s IEP, there are going to be options. At some point in the IEP process, you are either going to come to an agreement or come to an impasse. If you come to an impasse, you will just have to ask for it on a PWN and proceed from there.
If you add it to your child’s IEP, be specific. During what hours will they wear it? Mom/Dad responsible for it, including batteries. Who will have access to the information and where will that information be kept?
Final Thoughts on GPS devices for Kids with Autism.
Now if I can get on my soapbox for a moment. I have only “misplaced” my disabled child a couple of times, each for just a few seconds. One time we were at Sesame Place near the water. I remember the panic I felt for just 15 seconds, so I cannot imagine the stress if it happens repeatedly.
That being said, I worry that devices like these, while giving parents a sense of security, will be used instead of trying to change behaviors.
I send a non-verbal child out into the world every day, I get it. It’s very tempting.
I hope that my family never reaches the point that we have to consider this. Just please, please make sure that the team continues with FBAs, continues trying to change the behavior, understand the reasons behind the wandering (frustrated, bored, what?) and tries to fix it. I hope that all the ideas to work on this have been exhausted.
Most school teams are doing the best they can with what they have. Most IEP teams are overworked and under-resourced. I don’t want GPSs to be the reason we stop teaching our kids not to run off.
I’d hate for it to become the new “thing.” “Hey-your kid has autism? Get a GPS device for him!”
Safety for kids with autism is extremely important. But let’s not lose sight of self-determination. I hope you find peace in your households.