Updated Thursday, Nov. 5 11:17 a.m.
NORTH MERRICK, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — A Long Island family is one of the first to use a new GPS device made for children with autism – so kids can be tracked if they wander from home or school.
As CBS2’s Jennifer McLogan reported, the McDonough family of North Merrick is blessed with two sons – both with extremely high IQs, and both autistic.
“Any parent, I think, who has even lost their child at a shopping mall and had that five minutes of complete fear, understands what we feel,” said their mother, Dayann McDonough. “But we feel it every single day.”
The boys – Douglas, 10, and Donovan, 8 – have repeatedly wandered away. Their parents brought in behaviorists, double-bolted doors, locked windows, set alarms, and enclosed and fenced the backyard.
But the boys broke the screens and escaped.
“It is very hurtful to have people look at you as if you are a bad parent, or you abuse or neglect your children, because of a disability that you cannot control,” Dayann McDonough said.
Now, Donovan and Douglas are among the first to be outfitted with GPS tracking devices, which they wear at school.
“It’s a very small device. It’s similar in size to the old pagers,” Dayann McDonough told WCBS 880’s Sophia Hall. “And you just pin it on to your child. So you put the pin on, but it can only be removed with a special magnet.
“So if I click on it, it’s going to show me where he is, and this radius is the safe zone,” she said, pointing to a circle over a map on the device.
The audio monitoring for the device is turned off to protect the privacy of teachers and other students. Emails and texts note a location change.
“And then it lets me know he arrived at school shortly thereafter,” Dayann McDonough said.
The McDonoughs do not want the burden solely on schools to keep their sons safe. They cited the case of Avonte Oquendo, 14, who ran out of his Queens school two years ago – and whose remains were eventually found along a rocky shoreline in College Point.
“The next step is, how do we find them? And the GPS allows us to know exactly where the child ran off to, and that saves time, and can save a life,” Dayann McDonough said.
It was not automatic, and the McDonoughs had to fight for the GPS tracing. Nassau BOCES and the North Merrick School District now say they “would never prohibit any device that would ensure the safety and wellbeing of any student.”
Nationally, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) introduced a federal version of Avonte’s Law – a $10 million grant that would help parents purchase voluntary locator devices to be worn by wandering children with autism.
The McDonoughs hope their decision for GPS tracking will pave the way for other families struggling with autism.