‘It’s a way of living’: Mom discusses parenting children with autism

One of her children is a part of Project Lifesaver

ROANOKE, Va. – “As parents, we’re always worried.”

A fear Zuheil Alvarez Cortes lives with every day. She has four kids – one girl and three boys.

All of her sons are on the autism spectrum. Gibi, her 16-year-old, has profound autism and is nonverbal.

“He was diagnosed when he was 3 years old,” Cortes said.

Gibi is part of Project Lifesaver and wears the transmitter like a bracelet.

“He would just run and bolt,” Cortes said. “He’s not aware of danger. He can go out in the street. He’s not aware that he can get run over by a car.”

Although the technology provides families with peace of mind, it’s has its downsides.

The transmitters don’t use GPS, so you can’t track someone’s exact location.

Roanoke City Sheriff’s Office Major Monica Perkins helps runs the program, and said instead of GPS, the devices use radio frequencies.

“It’s not like we can pull it up on a computer ... we have to actually go out, boots on the ground, and search for that individual,” Perkins said.

The transmitter’s batteries need to be replaced monthly, and the transmitters are only detectable within a mile radius, so time is of the essence.

“An average person can go anywhere from 2-3 miles walking in an hour’s time,” Perkins said.

Those wearing one of Project Lifesaver’s bracelets could also cut them off.

“He used to cut the band to play with it,” Cortes said. “We called 911 and they found it. It was in the trash. I guess he just didn’t want it.”

She said, just like any parent, it’s hard to keep your eyes on your child 24/7.

“Sometimes they don’t sleep at night. Sleep during the day because they are tired when they come back from school,” Cortes said.

And parenting a child with autism is a journey.

“It’s important to not judge the parents .. .sometimes it is very difficult to deal with the situation ... and it’s not that they misbehaved or they’re bad parents,” Cortes said.

She said she’d like to see more education for law enforcement as well as the community.

About the Authors:

Alli Graham came aboard the digital team as an evening digital content producer in June 2022.

You can watch Lindsey during Virginia Today every weekend or as a reporter during the week!