Device helps parents of autistic children who may wander off


MURPHYSBORO - A Southern Illinois company keeps up with the times by helping parents of autistic children.

Now that one in 150 children are diagnosed with autism, Care Trak caters to parents with a tracking device for their children who are prone to "bolt and run." Care Trak, which grew from its parent company, Wildlife Materials, that makes animal tracking systems, sells a portable, electronic device so parents can find their children if they run off.

Each year, thousands of autistic youngsters take off running, leaving their parents panicked and frantic.

"Care Trak focuses on serving these parents and caregivers of autistic kids," said Mike Chylewski, Care Trak's vice president of operations.
"Because autistic kids have limited or no fear of danger and have a high tolerance for pain, parents are understandably frantic to find their child. Care Trak is a source of action and calm in what is otherwise a frightening and urgent situation."

The Care Trak device is a telemetry-based tracking receiver that electronically tracks lost persons who are wearing the 1-ounce transmitter. Care Trak also supplies devices for Alzheimer's and dementia sufferers but sells directly only to parents of autistic children because of regular use by these parents.

Care Trak's co-owner, Richard Blanchard, explained that dementia patients wander off less often than autistic children and Blanchard would rather caregivers of dementia patients call local law enforcement immediately than try to operate unfamiliar equipment under duress and worry.

"With Alzheimer's, the caregiver is more often elderly themselves and the technology of using the equipment is more confusing," Blanchard said. "It's fairly easy to use, but under the pressure of a loved one being gone, it's harder to pull this equipment out of a closet and use it."

Whereas, caregivers of autistic children tend to be younger and well versed in electronic technology, he said. And the equipment is used more frequently with autistic children who go to school, crowded events, parks, shopping with parents and many other outings on a regular basis. Law enforcement agencies also would have a receiver of the clients with autistic children, yet parents would have their own receiver.

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"We view selling to parents directly as a win-win for all," Blanchard said. "Caregivers and parents have peace of mind and sheriff's departments and police organizations don't have to spend a lot of time and money to search."

The device helps locate individuals typically within 20 to 30 minutes, he noted.

"We prefer to talk to people first to find out how they'll use it and what their needs are," he said. "When we sell equipment, we don't just disappear. We stay with the client throughout the whole process to make sure they know how to use the equipment. If they can't use it when they need to, the equipment is useless."

He also pointed out that Care Trak is not a "babysitting" service but just another tool to help parents.

Autistic children tend to wander short distances, but still could end up in dangerous circumstances. The Autism Society of America estimates that 1.5 million Americans and their families are now affected by the disorder. However, many autistic children are highly intelligent, physically active, observant and inquisitive.

Care Trak can locate a child with autism up to one mile on the ground, day or night, inside or outside. The device is mobile so when parents realize their child has bolted, they can take the receiver and track them immediately. Since the Care Trak is a telemetry-based system, obstacles or overhead cover, such as clouds, do not hinder the device.
With Care Trak, individuals wear a small transmitter, usually on the wrist like a wristwatch. It gives a signal 24 hours, seven days a week, even in water while bathing or swimming. Users should change the batteries once a month.

With dementia patients, usually receivers are held only by support organizations such as sheriff's or police departments. If an individual wanders off, caregivers normally would call the department to locate the transmitter.

Parents of autistic children get an invisible perimeter system, which includes a small receiver and a scanning unit to be plugged into a wall circuit. The scanner continually looks for a signal given off by the transmitter. If the signal disappears, it lets the caregiver know the signal is out of range.

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The receiver's antennae can be removed and taken along to locate a child. When going out, parents can operate the device by internal batteries. At a park, the receiver can be set on a picnic table or if parents and child are walking, they can put the receiver in a handbag or satchel.

Blanchard encourages parents who live in an area without the Care Trak program to talk to area law enforcement to persuade them to become involved with the tracking program.

Care Trak's parent company, Wildlife Materials, started Care Trak in 1985 in Carbondale and moved both companies to Murphysboro four years ago. In 1970, wildlife biologist Robert Hawkins, who taught at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, began Wildlife Materials for wildlife research. Hawkins is now retired and Blanchard and William Liao, both longtime employees of Hawkins, bought the company in 2001.

Care Trak started when a Carbondale resident asked Hawkins to help him with his wife, who had Alzheimer's and walked off several times.

"He put a falcon transmitter on her," Blanchard recalled. "As the need grew, the Federal Communications Commission gave us authorization to produce products specifically for this application."
May 30, 2008 - 9:36AM-The

1 comment:

Peter Lavelle said...


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