A few weeks ago, the Monster wandered off from us at Sesame Place when the park was extremely crowded.
The nature of the Monster’s Autism is that he’s limited in his ability to communicate with others. If prompted, he can tell you his name (first and last, but you often need to prompt him along), but he doesn’t know our phone numbers, our names, his home address… or at the very least, he doesn’t know how to share them with others.
We were very lucky, that afternoon, that park security found him and took him to Lost Parents, and that he was sufficiently communicative when I got there that he positively identified me as his father, but… in a larger amusement park, anyone could have found him, and we could have been running all over. And out in the wider world, if he were wandering in our neighborhood?
I’d heard of “If I Need Help” a while ago, when we’d returned to the whole issue of how to keep the Monster safe when we’re out. It’s an interesting product – a tag or patch or piece of clothing with a QR code on it that links to an online profile with contact information. I did review a similar product a while back – childIDcode stickers. As a reminder: childIDcode stickers featured QR codes that were encoded with pre-selected text on them. They were fairly resilient and great for if you’re somewhere without reliable Internet service. But… they were limited to 27 characters, and they were discontinued a few months after the review. And, let’s be honest – stickers are disposable and easily removed, though these held up nicely through a day out.
And yet these tags are better. (I should note that If I Need Help offers a variety of products, not all of them being tags – they have t-shirts with the QR codes on them, keychains, patches and window clings. I bought the shoe tag because I liked how it can be customized.) For starters, If I Need Help’s tags are metal and durable. It’s a nice, printed dogtag – in this case, punched on both ends so we can string it through his shoelaces at some point – and came on a chain for wearing as a pendant. It’s lightweight, and wearing it didn’t seem to annoy the Monster when we were out and about. (More on that in a bit.) I find that a pendant is just about right for ensuring that it’s at a level where someone’s going to notice it, whereas I’d imagine that putting it on his shoe makes it less likely to be removed by him or someone else… but possibly also not noticed as quickly. (We’re going to try that at some point soon, though.)
But where this is different from the childIDcode stickers – there are few locations where you’re not going to have Internet access in this day and age. I have at least 3G coverage at most locations, and a lot of popular places have wifi, including Sesame Place. (Hell, even M&T Bank Stadium has installed wifi for the coming NFL season. Go fig.) There’s not a lot of need to limit yourself to data that’s readable offline when you have your smartphone anymore. This frees you up to have a lot more information available – the QR code links to an online profile, where there’s a picture of the Monster, my wife’s and my first names and contact numbers, and room for you to input more critical information for someone who finds your child. This profile can also be sent by email to emergency services if you have a need to do so, if your child for instance goes wandering, and it can be updated anytime – if you’re on vacation, you can change your backup contact number, for example.
If for some reason, you’re without the Internet – say, the zombie apocolypse has come and the walking dead have eaten all the servers – you can have custom information printed on the tag in plain view. The Monster’s tag has his full name, my cellphone number (and that it’s his dad’s cell), and “Autism / Low Verbal” printed on it. All the critical information you would need immediately on finding him.
The answer was yes – in our case, the Monster’s not really opposed to bracelets and/or necklaces – and he tolerated wearing it through a morning at the Maryland State Fair without taking it off. It was nicely visible against his t-shirt and didn’t interfere with anything else he was doing while we were looking at the animals and vendors, and was sufficiently discreet that folks weren’t just staring at it or snapping scans of the QR code. Whether someone would notice it off the bat or not is another story, and I’m not willing to run a “What Would You Do” style test with my child in public. (I’m sure that the nice folks over at If I Need Help have done some testing.)
Turnaround on our order was only a few days, and I thought that the tag was very reasonably priced – we did have a snafu with our first order (the printing around the QR code was backwards), but they rectified it immediately and got us a replacement very quickly.
Now, I’m not hoping that my Monster goes wandering anytime soon that we’d have the opportunity to test how it works, but this product gives me a lot more peace of mind, the next time we go to a crowded amusement park, zoo, or museum.
(Standard disclaimer: I did not receive anything in return for this review – I purchased the tag you see in the images. I did at some point in the past receive a patch as a sample from If I Need Help, which is on my desk at home, and as soon as we figure out what it’s going on, clothing wise… it’s going on and being linked to his profile.)