LA CRESCENT, Minn. (WXOW) - Autism affects one in 88 children. Children with autism, or any other cognitive disorder, are at constant risk of wandering.
It's not because they have a bad home life, they run because something draws them there.
And they may not always be willing to get near police officers who are trying to bring them home. A La Crescent family is the first in Houston County to use a program that increases the chance of finding, and saving their autistic son.
When Caden Butler-Modaff was younger, wide open spaces terrified him. The way he would cope, was to run.
Doctors diagnosed seven-year-old Caden with autism after his 2nd birthday. Caden's mom, Jennifer Butler-Modaff, said "Your best efforts may not be enough to keep a particular child with a condition from wandering."
Those efforts include an autism service dog, who's trained to find Caden when his parents give the command, "but if Caden were with another caregiver Elf [his dog] might not be as useful," said Butler-Modaff.
Caden's family found Project Lifesaver, a program that uses a tracking bracelet for kids and the elderly who might wander.
The bracelet has a radio frequency that at any time can signal the police department to Caden's exact location. And an officer that Caden recognizes, like officer Laura Jackson, will be the first on scene.
Jackson called it "A rare opportunity for law enforcement to build relationships in the community for people who might need it eventually."
Caden is the only child in Houston County part of the project. The county doesn't even have the project, it runs through Winona.
Officer Jackson was the first La Crescent officer to be trained in the program. Now, Officer Justin Thorsen is involved.
Once a month an officer will visit Caden and change the battery on his bracelet. They aren't just keeping the bracelet alive, they're forming a bond with Caden that could one day save his life.
"He knows if he sees someone with this badge and this uniform on he knows that we're friends too," said Officer Jackson.
Caden has had his bracelet for more than a year and so far, he hasn't run away. "We try to give Caden as normal a life as possible and make sure we have as many backup plans as we can," said Dan Modaff, Caden's dad.
"It's okay to admit that it's a part of...it just is...it has nothing to do with Caden, it's a piece of autism we don't understand," said Butler-Modaff.
But a piece of technology gives Caden's family and his community peace of mind when he ventures into those wide open spaces.
Project Lifesaver has successfully found 2,825 people who have wandered. Forty-seven states in the country have Project Lifesaver.
The La Crescent Police Department said they would like to expand their use of the project, whether that be to kids with autism or adults with Alzheimer's.
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