TECH

These High-Tech Shirts And Pants Can Help Protect Kids With Autism

02/18/2015 04:12 pm ET | Updated Feb 19, 2015
ID

Many children with autism are prone to wandering away from their home or supervised space. While parents of these children face the daunting task of keeping tabs on them at all times, a GPS-equipped clothing line designed specifically for these families aims to help.

Nearly half the parents of children with autism said their youngster had tried to wander off or run away at least once after age 4, and most said the child was gone for "long enough to cause worry," according to a 2012 study. Former CNN correspondent Lauren Thierry -- whose teenage son, Liam, has autism -- is stepping up to change these statistics.

ID Clothing shirt and leggings from the 2014 collection, both of which have a special pocket to hold a GPS device.

In 2014, Thierry founded Independence Day Clothing, which offers shirts and pants that can help track down a child in the event he or she goes missing.

"One out of every 68 babies born today is going to fall somewhere on the autism spectrum. We're talking about 4.3 million people. I was shocked that someone else hadn't come up with it," Thierry said of her idea for clothes outfitted with tracking devices.

Unlike many other pieces of wearable tech, which are worn around the wrist or ankle, ID Clothing's GPS units slip inside a soft pocket sewn into each garment. There aren't any uncomfortable wires sewn into the apparel, either.

Currently, each GPS device measures 2 inches long and weighs less than an ounce. Thierry says an even smaller unit is on the horizon.

"The predator can't see it. The fidgety kid can't see it or feel it. It's in a quilted compartment, and it leaves the parent with the ultimate decision-making of who needs to know my kid has a GPS sensor on them," Thierry told The Huffington Post.

The GPS tracker slips right into ID's clothes.

The shirts and pants are the same backward and forward, which makes it easier for children to dress themselves. Thierry said she made this a big priority after realizing she wouldn't always be able to help her son in the morning.

Available on the company's website, the clothing items range from $37.50 to $59.50. Currently, the GPS sensor is offered on a subscription basis: You get the device for free, but pay an activation fee of $69.95, plus $14.95 monthly.

Thierry told HuffPost that the subscription model got some pushback from parents, and she plans to replace it with a one-time charge, which has yet to be determined.

Kristina Chew, an online classics lecturer at Rutgers University who blogs about raising a son with autism, told HuffPost it's key for the device be easy to wear and hard to detect.

"[Some] families have noted that [wearable] devices can be difficult for a child (especially one with sensory sensitivities, such as many children on the spectrum have) to wear, much less to wear for extended periods of time," Chew wrote in an email.

"A technology that makes it possible for families to monitor the movements of a child who tends to wander (and who has no idea that she or he is lost) ... could certainly be [useful]," she continued.

There have been a number of efforts to make ideas like this work.

Following the death of Avonte Oquendo, a teen with autism whose remains were discovered on a New York beach months after he disappeared from school, Senator Charles Schumer proposed a law that would finance tracking devices for children with autism. That bill has still not been passed by Congress.

Autism Speaks, an advocacy group, recently announced a $98,000 commitment to Project Lifesaver, a program that provides wrist and ankle tracking devices, in addition to training for first responders to better understand the needs of individuals with autism.

"When we think about wandering, it needs to be a multi-pronged approach," Lisa Goring, executive vice president of programs and services for Autism Speaks, told HuffPost. "You need to back it up much further than GPS or the locating device. It needs to start with educating people with autism and their families."

The challenge now is to get the clothing in the right hands. She recently met with a Walmart supplier to pitch the idea of a "starter kit," which would have included a shirt and device for $80, but was told the price was too high for the retail chain's customers, Thierry said. Now, she's working with the local government in Enfield, Connecticut, to establish a program for getting ID Clothing items to 300 students with special needs.

"GPSing in the clothes is going to become the norm," Thierry said. "Hear me now, believe me later."

Correction: This article originally stated that Thierry met with Walmart to pitch the "starter kit." In fact, she met with a Walmart supplier. The article has been updated to reflect this information.

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