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A Response to Black Mirror’s Representation of GPS Tracking for Kids

January 30, 2018

So what’s it like to be an autism parent?

Let’s start with the fact that autism parents have the same cortisol level as veterans with PTSD. Just take a minute to imagine what your daily life must look like to create those levels of stress hormones.

Have you ever lost your child for a minute, even just a few seconds? Maybe you were at the mall or the park, turned around for just a moment, and then couldn’t see your child anywhere. Wasn’t it the longest minute of your life?

Roughly half of all individuals with autism will wander, or elope as it’s often called. When you see news articles about missing children with autism, like Avonte Oquendo, Marcus Mcghee, or one of the thousands other names that the media doesn’t even bother to report on, it’s due to wandering. We’re talking about children who often are non-verbal, or don’t know how to give their own information to adults or police.

It’s easy to understand where those stress hormones come from.

Ok, now let’s add in public opinion of the ignorant masses.

“Why weren’t the parents keeping an eye on their child?”

“So that means the parents should pay more attention to this child especially with autism”

“Where is the caregiver(s)?”

“Where was the parents at ? We gotta keep our eyes on these kids smh”

“I’m not perfect but I always keep a close eye on my baby boy inside or outside”

“Everything is: blame it on “autism”. A good whipping will take that brattiness and behavior away and a whipping to the parents too for not keeping on eye on that kid.”

“Great WASTE OF MONEY. Actual Crimes are being committed and the cops are out looking for SOMEONES CHILD (I blame the parents) who actually wasn’t missing at all SINCE HE IS ON THE PROPERTY. Freakin Idiots”

These are actual quotes taken from public videos on Facebook reporting missing children with autism who wandered away. Many people who do not have autism children simply do not understand what autism wandering is. Many autism parents call their children “little Houdinis” or “escape artists.” These kids are so quick they can run out of school without the security guard or teacher noticing. These parents take every precaution, including extra door and window locks, alarms on their doors and windows, ID bracelets. But it still is not enough, these children manage to escape in the blink of an eye.

Imagine never being able to take your family to the park, or mall, or any vacation. Imagine canceling all of your own social activities because you can’t leave your child with a babysitter.

For someone who doesn’t live this reality, it’s hard to even imagine, isn’t it?

It’s easy to judge from the safety of our living rooms. Which is exactly what Black Mirror’s Season 4 episode, Arkangel, brought about. People who aren’t autism parents judging tracking devices. Let’s make one thing very clear: GPS trackers for children with autism SAVE LIVES daily.

Zoe Williams’ review of Arkangel, published in the Guardian, aptly describes some of the issues facing parents adjusting to tech in the modern era and how that influences so called “helicopter parenting.” But Williams fails to differentiate between the moral conundrums facing neurotypical parents, and autism parents. Why does this matter in a review about a TV show? Because words matter. Because what we say to and about autism families matters. Because it’s a fine line between accusing autism parents that their “perception of [their] child’s vulnerability takes precedence over their interaction with the world” and saying “A good whipping will take that brattiness and behavior away.”

There are two main misconceptions when it comes to public opinion about GPS trackers:

1- neurotypical families  get lumped together with autism families

2- GPS tracking means microchipping individuals, possibly even against their will.

GPS tracking means micro chipping individuals

The first point I’ve already briefly touched on, so let’s leave that aside for a moment while you contemplate what it would be like if your child could bolt away from you at any minute of the day or night.

Let’s address the second concern, HOW GPS tracking is being implemented. No, there are no companies offering to microchip your child for you. While it’s thrilling to get lost in Black Mirror’s dystopian universe, let’s keep our feet planted firmly on the ground when discussing the  safety of our children. The tracking devices in question are removable devices. Watches, clip-ons, and in AngelSense’s case, sensory friendly, tamper-proof wearables. Nothing permanent, nothing that requires a lab or technician. We’re talking about devices much like your smartphone.  The AngelSense GPS device fastens on clothing or a bag and is removed with the parent key. The discussion about the fear of microchipping people is simply a red herring taking away from the real issue: autism parents desperately need this assistive technology and it needs to be made available to them.

Frankly I’m a bit fed up with the dismissive tone people take in regards to autism children. Williams flippantly addresses the issue of children on the autism spectrum: “You could justify [GPS trackers] if your child did indeed need you as its conduit, and could be prey to predatory behaviour without being able to express it. But every parent perceives their child as vulnerable.” Imagine if we were talking about allergies instead of wandering.  “You could justify not eating peanuts if your child did indeed have an allergy. But every parent perceives their child as vulnerable.” The undertone here is your child isn’t special and doesn’t deserve special care. The problem is, special children DO deserve special care. And GPS trackers are a critical, life saving tool for autism parents.

Let’s stop dismissing the real dangers facing children with autism. Applying our fear of neurotypical children losing independence across the board means autism children losing their lives.

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