Unlike most parents, Doron Somer couldn’t simply ask his son how school was – 19-year-old Itamar had autism, which prevented him from interacting like other kids his age. That was until Doron came up with a way for his child and others to communicate without words.
There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all autism diagnosis. The condition might lead to repetitive behaviors, communication challenges or difficulty in social situations, all of which come on a sliding spectrum of severity.
And the condition affects a staggering amount of children in the United States – the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approximates that one in 59 children have autism. Boys are more likely to be on the spectrum, with a one in 37 chance.
For Somer and his wife, communicating with their autistic son Itamar was nearly impossible. They spent years deciphering reports from his school and interpreting his behaviors to understand what was going on in his day-to-day life.
As he aged, Itamar began taking the bus to and from a special educational institution. Somer wrote in HuffPost that he had had no way to know how that process had gone – an especially scary prospect with bus drivers inept at handling autistic passengers.
Somer wrote on HuffPost, “We were particularly worried about the bus rides, after experiencing a number of incidents with drivers who were incompetent at best, and abusive at worst. Our frustration and anger continued to grow.”
But rather than let this feeling consume him, Somer decided to do something about it. Fortunately, he had professional experience to pull from as a tech expert. By the time his son turned 17, he began working on what would become his solution to his problem – and a potential help to other parents in the same situation too.
In fact, he teamed with Nery Ben-Azar, who had nearly 30 years of tech industry experience, to create the device he envisioned. “When [Somer] shared his idea with me, I immediately understood the need as I am intimately familiar with the challenges of keeping a special needs child safe,” Ben-Azar wrote on the AngelSense website.
Together, they put together the AngelSense GPS and Voice-Monitoring Solution. “We call it a GPS, but really, it’s so much more than that,” Somer wrote. He went on to differentiate his creation from a tradition GPS or cell phone, which many parents already use.
Somer wrote on HuffPost, “The idea behind traditional GPS trackers is that parents realize their child has gone missing and then use a GPS to locate him or her. With older kids that are out on their own, parents can simply call their cell phones to find out where they are and what they’re up to. If only things were so simple for my child.”
But the AngelSense can give him and other parents the real-life updates they have always wanted from their autistic children. For starters, the app sends them updates on their children’s location throughout the day, with school bus routes, travel speed and arrival times included.
These updates can provide peace of mind, but they’re also vital in an emergency situation. Often times, autistic children – who are just as curious as other kids their ages – go off to explore on their own. It’s known as “wandering” by the National Autism Association, but it can be dangerous for non-verbal children who can’t tell anyone their names, where they live and so on.
That’s why the AngelSense app alerts parents if their children have gone off-course from the places they’re meant to be each day. “Any problem, such as being left at the wrong bus stop, that for older typically developing children is just a minor blip, could result in catastrophe for a child with special needs,” Somer wrote on HuffPost.
To avoid false alarms, the app uses analytics to familiarize itself with the places that the child frequents. So if they arrive at a place the app doesn’t recognize, that’s when parents and caregivers receive a ping that can prompt action, should their child actually need help.
AngelSense isn’t just a GPS tracker though. The device allows parents to phone their child’s device one way to listen in on their day. Somer added this feature for a very specific reason. “I wanted to be able to make sure he wasn’t being bullied or mistreated,” he wrote on HuffPost.
But listening in wasn’t always all bad – Somer said he heard some heartwarming happenings on the other end too. “I have often heard wonderful things, such as positive interaction my son had with a teacher, or the sounds of him talking to himself contently,” he wrote on HuffPost.
The last consideration was the look and feel of the device itself. Somer told The Times of Israel, “You can’t just give autistic kids a wristwatch. Just the presence of a watch is overstimulating, and they will get it off or destroy it very quickly.”
So Somer worked with wearable tech experts to create the AngelSense so that it was both discreet and secure. Magnetic pins hold it to the inside of a child’s clothes so it’s out of sight, and it’s strong enough that they can’t remove it without the help of a parent or caretaker.
All these features make the AngelSense the avenue of communication he always wanted. “There is no better feeling in the world than knowing your child is happy and well cared for,” he wrote. Plus, Somer said his son thrived while wearing the device, which is available for purchase online.
“AngelSense works in both directions. In my effort to create a tool that would allow me to be more connected to my son and to know he’s safe and doing well, I also created something that makes my son feel more connected to me. He knows I’m always there with him, keeping an eye and an ear out to watch over him,” Somer wrote on HuffPost.