SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. - An autistic child's disappearance and drowning in Seminole County is prompting other concerned parents to look at new ways to protect their kids.
For many who have children with autism, the scenario that unfolded this weekend is their greatest worry.
New technology in the works could help prevent a similar tragedy.
“It's like every parent with autism's worst nightmare. You're scared it's going to be you on the news next and people blaming you because you weren't watching your kid, you know?,” said parent Brooke Almiron.
Almiron was heartbroken watching the weekend search for a 7-year-old Seminole County boy with autism, who was later found dead in a lake.
It reminded her of her own fears for her 6-year-old daughter, who is non-verbal.
Almiron said as her daughter gets older, she will likely need a backup to her backup plans.
“What do you do with a 22-year-old with autism? You can't let your eyes be away from them. They can reach a top lock, even if you put a deadbolt on it,” said Almiron.
Terri Daly, the director of the University of Central Florida’s Center for Autism and Related Disabilities, suggests GPS trackers for parents of autistic children who tend to wander.
“What we do is we inform parents of what the options are as far as tracking devices,” said Daly. “Some work off of GPS, some work off radio signal.”
There’s also Project Lifesaver; a GPS tracking nonprofit that partners with law enforcement.
It’s not available across much of Central Florida, so Daly also suggests some newer wearables, such as Angel Sense, Care Trak or LoJack.
Almiron said she already has special devices on every door to prevent escape, but thinks additional technology would give her more peace of mind.
“Even if I keep her holed up in my house forever, I can't be constantly watching her. I have to make her dinner occasionally. I have to take my eyes off her for a moment,” she said.
One hurdle Almiron's family and many others run into is that the GPS trackers are often expensive, especially on top of a long list of costly care most are already dealing with.
Daly said their center is only funded for under $150 per family to provide technical assistance to schools and agencies, training for parents and individuals, family support and public awareness. She said the average up-front cost of a tracker is $300-$500 per person.
Daly said they were counting on the "Missing Persons Act" filed by Florida Rep. Elizabeth Porter (R) and passed by the legislature to allocate thousands of dollars for the trackers.
Daly said instead, money was needed for school safety and security measures after the Parkland shooting.
"We couldn't actually pull funds out of our existing account for all our services to provide those devices, so we're hopeful that the legislature will again fund this year so we can get more families these protective devices -- and hopefully we can prevent these things from happening," Daly said.
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