Throughout the time I have been involved with autism I have had the privilege to talk with 1000’s of families who have a child with autism and individuals with autism. Every conversation is rich with shared experiences of strength, hopes, challenges and a common bond. This is a community that celebrates its victories, fights tenaciously for the meager services that we can obtain and watches out for each other. Many of us have the experiences that obtaining solutions to the issues we face are difficult and when we do find a “solution” many times we are making decisions between lousy choices. This has motivated me to continue to seek out new and innovative methods and technologies that will improve the lives of all affected and/or dealing with autism.
One such area of innovation is in the new devices that monitor a person’s location while also allowing them to be more independent. This issue of “wandering” in autism is highly personal to me. My son with autism wandered when he was young, and I had the experience of attending too many funerals when a child who had wandered met with a tragic end. In my son’s case, I was torn between the need we felt to keep him safe which, at the time, we interpreted as keeping him “under lock and key” and thus restricting his ability to explore, learn and become more independent. The new devices, such as what Adiant Mobile offers, solves this. I will address in future blogs how to use the Adiant Mobile products as part of a child’s programming and how to have it as the basis for developing their independence…which is one of the most important aspects of them becoming a more secure, productive and successful adult.
The question that comes up the most by parents of children with autism when looking at a wearable monitoring device is “How do you expect my kid to wear that thing with his/her sensory issues?” Quite frankly, based on my experience with my son and that of many other families, because of the child’s sensory issues I would not expect them to be able to tolerate wearing the device. So, what do we do? You want the child to be safe and for the family to have a sense of security and comfort in knowing where the child is. It only takes one wandering incident for a family to realize they have to do something. And, with almost everything with autism, there are no easy answers.
Below are suggestions on how to deal with the sensory issues and to make wearing the device tolerable for your child. Overcoming sensory issues takes time (what doesn’t with autism) so look at this process as an effort that will have long-term benefits beyond just wearing the device.
Get and keep them involved in the process
Wearing the device and what you are trying to accomplish should not be a mystery to your child. The process should be explained in a calm, honest and age-appropriate manner focusing on the positive aspects while also being sensitive (and telling him/her that) to how difficult it may be for them to wear the device. Show them the device, what it does and have them play with the app. Allow the child to move forward at their pace…this may take some time so don’t allow either of you to feel the pressure of making this work sooner than it takes for the child to be comfortable.
Consider wearing the device yourself for a period of time. When appropriate, point out how comfortable it is and let your child track you on the app.
Take the time for the child to be comfortable
Do not rush the process. Let your child hold the watch and play with it. When appropriate, after asking and receiving permission, put it on him/her. Let him/her know that when they want it taken off, it will be. You may want to set up time limits of 1 minute, 5 minutes, etc., to encourage your child to keep it on and then it will be removed. Consider establishing a “reward” if your child keeps it on for the designated time. Let your child know that there are times when he/she does not have to wear the device…my son looked forward to that.
If there is a character that your child enjoys in a book, video, cartoon, etc. that wears a watch or other accessories, have them identify with the character as a way to show them that is acceptable and “cool” to wear the device. With my son, this was one of his greatest influences for wanting to wear a watch and identity pendant. The watches are “high tech” and unique and can be used to encourage your child to engage with his/her peers to “show it off”. Again, with my son, we found that this made him more sociable and comfortable with his classmates.
Get everyone involved
Since this device can be used to enhance a child’s independence and behavioral/educational program, have the behavior therapist, teacher, other interventionists, etc. involved with encouraging and being positive with your child wearing the device. If your child has sensory issues and is willing to tolerate wearing the device, this needs to be celebrated. It is these little steps that build towards our children becoming more independent and successful adults…that is what we are all (your child, you, the teachers, etc.) committed to accomplishing and the slightest progress is PROGRESS.
Provide continuing and expanding independence
This is the goal! Being safe and secure while having the ability to explore, learn and be independent. The greatest reward you can give to your child is allowing him/her to be free to make his/her own choices and set his/her own direction. That continuing and growing independence will serve your child well in wanting to continue to wear the device. This sense of freedom will be among the best things you can provide to your child in assisting them to develop into the confident and reliant adult you will hope them to be.