TAMPA, Fla. - The parents of children with autism face a lot of challenges. For many of those families, there's a constant worry about their kids wandering away. There's now a new, free technology to help give them peace of mind.
Tre Young loves school. But he can only tell you that, by using a special tablet. That's because he suffers from severe autism. He can't talk, needs a feeding tube, diapers, and constant supervision.
"We watch him like a hawk," said Tre's mom, Kendra Young.
But Tre's still managed to wander away from home twice.
"Fear isn't a strong enough word for it. It's something you just don't think will happen to you," said Young.
Tre got a medical alert bracelet but that wasn't enough.
The Youngs have also made a couple improvements since then in their home, like alarms that sound every time the door is opened.
Her family just added an extra layer of security, a new tracking bracelet. It's thanks to Project Leo, a partnership between USF's Center for Autism and Related Disabilities and the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.
"As soon as they put the bracelet on, I just felt this sense of relief that I haven't felt the entire time he's been alive," said Young/
If a child with a tracker wanders off, parents call 911 and give the bracelet's ID number. Deputies with the SafetyNet team roll out on foot and in the air. Radio frequency trackers ping the bracelet, and as it gets louder.
"It means I'm almost on top of her," said Deputy Melissa Brunelle, with HCSO.
On average, parents and kids are reunited in about 15 minutes. More than 200 of the tracking bracelets are available for families of kids with autism in Hillsborough County for free.
"We feel very strongly this is part of keeping people safe in the community," said Dr. Karen Berkman, director of USF-CARD.
To learn more about applying to get a tracker for an autistic child, call USF-CARD at (813) 974-2532 or check out their website.
The tracking devices are also available for purchase for the elderly through the Hillsborough Co. Sheriff's Office. Details on that can be found here.