Electronic tracking devices may improve quality of life for parents of children with
PAS Meeting Updates
SAN FRANCISCO – Many children with Autism Spectrum Disorder face increased risk of
injury when they wander away from adults who care for them. Even when parents take
safety precautions such as installing window bars at home, studies show parents' fear
of their children wandering is a significant source of stress for families. New research
being presented at the 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting suggests that electronic
tracking devices worn by children may reduce how often children wander and help ease
Researchers will discuss the study abstract, “Impact of Tracking Device Technology
on Quality of Life for Families with a Child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder,” during
a platform presentation on Saturday, May 6, at the Moscone West Convention Center
in San Francisco. They will also present five other abstracts about studies they conducted
using the same cohort, currently the largest national sample of children who have
wandered, during a poster session on Tuesday, May 9.
According to national estimates, more than a quarter million children with autism
and other developmental disorders wander away from adult supervision each year, said
Andrew Adesman, M.D., FAAP, a senior investigator for the abstracts being presented
and chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Seven and Alexandra Cohen
Children’s Medical Center of New York.
“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,” Dr. Adesman
“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,” he said.
For the studies, researchers examined online survey responses from 1,345 parents invited
to participate through autism organizations nationwide. The parents answered questions
about their children's developmental diagnosis and severity, past wandering behavior
and prevention strategies they’d used to address the behavior, including extra locks
and physical barriers, child harnesses, and electronic tracking devices that used
radio, Bluetooth or global positioning system (GPS) technology to help parents quickly
find children who wander off.
Results suggest that that electronic tracking devices reduced parent-rated wandering
frequency by nearly a quarter (23%) while also having wider effects on household anxiety
levels, routines and perceived quality of life. The majority of parents (87%) said
that before using an electronic tracking device, concerns about wandering affected
decisions whether to let their child spend time with friends or family in their absence,
for example. This compared to 60% of parents who said this was the case while using
an electronic tracking device.
Overall, 96% of parents who said they were currently using an electronic tracking
device said it made their quality of life better (47% said it made it “somewhat better,”
and 49% said “much better.”)
“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,” said Laura McLaughlin, developmental and
behavioral pediatrics research assistant and principal investigator for the studies.
Dr. Adesman said the findings suggest physicians who care for children at risk for
wandering should become informed about different electronic tracking devices and counsel
parents about potential benefits.
McLaughlin will present the abstract, “Impact of Tracking Device Technology on Quality
of Life for Families with a Child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder,” on May 6 from
8 a.m. to 10 a.m. in room SFC-3008. It also is available at https://registration.pas-meeting.org/2017/reports/rptPAS17_Abstracts.asp. Five additional, related abstracts will be displayed from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. in the
Poster & Exhibit Hall on May 9.
The Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) Meeting brings together thousands of individuals
united by a common mission: to improve child health and well-being worldwide. This
international gathering includes pediatric researchers, leaders in academic pediatrics,
experts in child health, and practitioners. The PAS Meeting is produced through a
partnership of four organizations leading the advancement of pediatric research and
child advocacy: Academic Pediatric Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American
Pediatric Society, and Society for Pediatric Research. For more information, visit
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