We’re always watching
Well, at least that’s what people who participate in a new program offered by Ramsey County can say. The news is nothing new if you closely follow coverage in the Twin Cities area, but it’s significant after a severely autistic man wandered off and got lost near Grantsburg, Wisconsin. He was found and is back to normal, but the program is designed to protect people like him should he get lost again. The search and rescue initiative, targeted for the county’s most vulnerable citizens (severe autism, Down’s Syndrome, etc.), uses a radio transmitter attached to the recipient that law enforcement can detect if someone goes missing.
I’ve noted this before, but a common symptom of autism is lack of awareness for danger. In my case, that might be the opposite given my ability to absorb more information than the average person :-). They’ll often wander off if they see something that stimulates them, and in some cases, autistics will vanish for no apparent reason. The man who was featured is unable to communicate verbally, making any effort to understand his thought process impossible. For that reason, I see no problem with taking steps to protect people who have the highest risk of going unnoticed.
The cost might be a turn-off, much like health insurance is (the infamous short-term vs. potential long-term consequences debate). To say hindsight is 20-20 is accurate, but a little short-sighted. Ultimately, the debate could come down to how severely is a person affected, as there’s often a correlation between severity and supervision. I doubt we’ll see any panic from parents of people who are at-risk, or at least hear about it in the news. I can see this facet incorporated into more profile stories of autistic people reporting the constant despair their families go through (there are two prevailing patterns in autism coverage that I’ve noticed from anecdotal evidence). One detail left out that Hult should have inquired was the range the transmitters can reach. Otherwise, there’s the possibility of an impulsive reaction that the system is ineffective, similar to what I’ve observed with seat belts when fatal car crashes are reported.
In the quest to understand autism, it should be noted that Ramsey County’s surveillance program won’t fit for everyone. For those who can’t live on their own, this may provide some relief.