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‘James’ Law

Illinois HB 1610 was signed into law on Wednesday, July 6th by Governor Pat Quinn. Named James’ Law, the law amends the Emergency Telephone Systems act to allow for bracelets which can be remotely activated upon alert from a missing person’s registered caregiver. The bill was a labor of love, sponsored by Illinois State Representative, Karen May, with significant contributions from Elmhurst Mayor Pete DiCianni and Illinois State Representative Patti Bellock.

Autism Speaks Chicagoland Chapter board member, Nancy O’Brien, approached Mayor DiCianni in 2007 after enduring a two-hour ordeal when her son, James, went missing. The law was named James’ Law in his honor and will be an additional measure to help ensure emergency personnel are able to respond quickly when someone needs assistance and can return them safely.

At the signing, Nancy shared her story:

Hello everyone, I’m James’ Mom, Nancy O’Brien

4 years ago, on a Saturday morning, we were having a typical Saturday morning. My husband, Jim, was doing some laundry and I was upstairs doing other chores. A few minutes turned into a nightmare.

My husband came upstairs and asked as he had asked a million times before, “Is he with you?” and I said, “No?” and we both immediately headed for the door. I was in flip flops and my husband grabbed his car keys…I started running and he started driving. As I ran down the street, I immediately called out to my neighbors and everyone dropped what they were doing. James was gone.

We are blessed to live on a street with neighbors who have become our best friends. And doubly blessed to live in a community that cares. As I rounded the corner, I ran into the convenience store–“Have you seen my son?”–people stopped and started looking….I ran into the fire station–“My son is lost!”–I started to run some more. I was stopped by police officers. “Go home Mrs. O’Brien. We need you home when we find him.”

Two hours and fourteen minutes. The longest two hours of our lives. I heard stories for days afterwards from friends who were gathered in a fast food restaurant when a paramedic came in yelling that a child was lost. A couple who stopped their garage sale, found a picture of James and photocopied it and started handing it out in downtown Elmhurst. My dear neighbor who went to Salt Creek and prayed he wouldn’t find James. The kids who drove their bikes up and down the Prairie Path and stopped everyone.

Just as the County Bloodhound dogs had started on their trek, a lovely Jewel employee, who happened to be a special ed major at Elmhurst College, spotted James in the DVD section with a bag of Chesse Puffs. She knew the he was special needs and that he shouldn’t be alone.

Two hours later, he was found.

Thank God for this neighborhood and for our neighbors and for our Mayor, who listened when I asked him afterwards that we find a GPS system to help find our kids.

You have given our family and many families of kids with autism and other disorders and adults with Alzheimer’s some peace today.

We did something good today. Thank you for being such good neighbors. 

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  1. July 9, 2011 at 1:32 pm

    that’s great but with a bracelet it can easily come off by the wearer if it was say in the shoe like the iPod Touch partnership with Nike that could make it easier

  2. Julie Layer
    July 9, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    I thin k what you have done is great. My daughter has Autism and that is one of my biggest fears, that she will get away from me and I will realize it too late. This is a God send to all of us. Thank you for all of your hard work and effort to make this happen!

  3. Doleatha Young_ Harris
    July 9, 2011 at 1:40 pm

    I am so glad that they enacted this law! We in California are in need of protection like that for our special needs and senior loved ones! Thank you for posting this… it has given me direction and hope for my son, Erick! He is everything!

  4. Tara Savage
    July 9, 2011 at 1:46 pm

    That had to be the most terrifying experience! My son has Autism and is unable to speak. He loves to get out and do things but if he ever learned how to open the door and get out I would have a heart attack! I’m so glad he came home safe for you! God was watching out for your sweet baby!

  5. patti hujsa
    July 9, 2011 at 1:57 pm

    What a great story and it has a happy ending! I need to do this in Pa! I’m hoping our state will help and follow suit! Our children are so precious and when they r special needs it makes a world of difference! Our neighbors child was missing 13 hrs – we found out at 10p and immediately started looking for him we started at his home (he was at a park with his daycare group) and worked our way towards were he got lost at and finally found him at 1130 we found him….

  6. July 9, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    This is so very awesome.. My grand daughter whom lives with us has Autism.. I follow everything that has to do with it.

  7. Jennifer
    July 9, 2011 at 2:47 pm

    I live in the UK and my adult autistic grandson is desperate to have one of these bracelets. Such a shame we don’t have a similar system in place here.

  8. Jamie
    July 9, 2011 at 4:54 pm

    I have an autistic son. I live in california. This happened to me twice. It was the worst moment of my life. I only wish this law was.in.southern.california!

  9. JAN
    July 9, 2011 at 11:27 pm

    Perhaps some day this type of law will be enacted nationwide. It certainly would be a God send to everyone who has a child and/or adult, with any type of special needs to be able to feel a little more secure in knowing that if that person ever became lost they could be found quickly.

  10. July 10, 2011 at 12:35 am

    My son is 4 and autistic, how can I get something started here in San Diego? There has been two times when Ryan has gotten out of the house and a neighbor has stopped him as we ran down the street after him. It only takes one to get hurt. We really need something like this. John Gibason

  11. Gale Prol
    July 10, 2011 at 7:24 am

    This was a great story because it included James’s mother’s statement. It is good to read about how the law and the bracelets will work at the personal level. There needs to be more information or a follow up story with details about how it is implemented. I see the bracelet not being practical for a number of children with autism, but obviously many like James will become accustomed to wearing it. There are so many stories about the elderly who wander away and are not found. The law also gives this safety net to people with dementia, alzheimers and their families. Bravo to this effort that makes the world a safer place for many marginalized people.

  12. July 10, 2011 at 11:41 am

    Thank you! Something to fight for where we live to. I have gone through this twice in the last 8 months with my autistic 6 year old. So very scary! Glad everything turned out the way it did.

  13. July 10, 2011 at 1:34 pm

    Thank God you found him and for your wonderful community! The governor should be applauded. My grandson, James, has opened the front door and left twice. Both times the dog went with him but it was still the scariest time of my life. We now have a blaring alarm on the door, but I still worry that he’ll figure it out before long. I’m going to find out if Arizona can enact a similar program.

  14. Gene Bensinger
    July 12, 2011 at 8:26 am

    Terrific stuff, Nancy and James! Mayor Pete DiCianni and Rep. Patty Bellock were also key people in the fight to get insurance reform enacted here in Illinois. They’ve been fast friends and advocates for the autism community for a long time. That said, autism safety still needs to be a bigger part of the toolkit. Swimming lessons are critical. Mitigants for elopers. A “trust but verify” approach to service providers. First responder/legal system/parent/school system/cargiver safety education. All need to be emphasized much more than they are today.

  15. BSS
    July 12, 2011 at 1:01 pm

    And what no one is telling you and something that this law does not address is that Child Protective Services interjects themselves into cases like this and supports findings of neglect and/or child abuse against parents like this. Parents of autistic children are under fire every day by Child Protective Service agencies because these agencies feel that if these parents were “good parents” these children would not display the behaviors (wandering off, hitting, biting, violent meltdowns, etc.) that are consistent with their diagnosis. Little is known about what Child Protective Service agencies do to families of autistic children.

  16. July 12, 2011 at 2:09 pm

    good luck florence, since AZ republicans want to do away with the autism insurance mandates there. anyway, i live in IL and this is the first time i’ve heard about this. my daughter has autism and has mondo sensory issues. she’ll hold our hands or let us hold her wrist, but she DOES NOT like to wear bracelets. one poster on here had a good idea. put the gps in the shoe. there is only one pair of shoes my daughter can take off right now and that is because they are slip ons. shoe companies and designers should take notice of this.

    • Rick Clarke
      July 22, 2011 at 9:04 am

      Jennie, Having shoe manufactorers thinking of this when they design shoes. That is an awesome idea. I love it.

  17. Rick Clarke
    July 22, 2011 at 9:02 am

    This is a fantastic law. Godbless all of those who fought to make this happen.

  18. Tina
    July 25, 2011 at 12:58 pm

    As I read your story, I relived the day my daughter did the same thing, just a few months back. Our story also ended happily, we found her very quickly, right around the corner (but it could have been much longer, as in your case). We are very fortunate in GA to have a program called Project Lifesaver. It is a free program through our local Sheriff’s office. She wears an anklet (could also be a bracelet) that is a GPS tracking device which enables the local Sheriff’s Department to locate her if she were to get away from us. It really offers us peace of mind (but, as parents we always worry) knowing that she would be found very quickly instead of going through the horrific time of searching for a lost loved one. I hope everyone can get this program in their local counties!

  19. October 12, 2011 at 6:42 pm

    Thank you for this article. I knew an autistic person and it was really hard to understand and know his needs. “James Law” is a very good law for me.

  20. diana daniels
    November 21, 2011 at 10:26 pm

    What a great idea. I also think a shoe, jacket, backpack placement should be examined.
    How to get this passed in Washington state?

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