As we enter the month of July and the beginning of the summer season, Connec-to-Talk wants to remind our families about the importance of swim safety for children with autism.
It is important to note that many individuals on the autism spectrum are naturally drawn to water, but may not be able to understand the dangers associated with it. While drowning is the number one cause of accidental death or injury from children ages one to 15 (Dellinger and Gilchrist 2017), research highlights the importance of introducing proper aquatic safety techniques to children to decrease the risk of accidental drowning. (Brenner et al, 2003). Because of this, we must emphasize that the leading cause of death among people with autism that wander is drowning. Therefore, teaching water safety skills to these individuals is of utmost importance. Check out our 8 step guide for water safety for autistic children
1) Teach Your Child The Importance Of Water Safety Early
One of the first steps you can take to ensure water safety is to emphasize the dangers at an early age. Setting boundaries, expressing the risks and reviewing rules for behavior around any body of water will minimize the risk of drowning. Specifically, for children with ASD, recommend speaking with their ABA therapist to understand and learn how to go about teaching the dangers.
Some examples may include utilizing visuals, telling social stories, and other strategies that your child’s ABA therapist might deem worthy of trying. The sooner your child is provided with this information, the better they will be able to understand the risks and practice safety swimming measures.
Teach children water safety in different bodies of water (e.g. pools, lakes, oceans)
- Lake and River Swimming Safety (https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/types-of-emergencies/water-safety/lake-river-safety.html)
- Water Safety with Swimmy: 10 Water Safety Rules Everyone Should Follow (https://www.amazon.com/Water-Safety-Swimmy-Everyone-Should/dp/1489707476)
2) Sign Them Up For Swim Lessons
It goes without saying that signing up individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) for swimming lessons would help aid in having a safe summer. However, you must make sure that these swimming lessons are given in a fit environment for your child. Of course, an environment with limited distractions is ideal for children on the autism spectrum.
Additionally, children with autism perform well in a small or private class, with a small student to teacher ratio. Thus, we recommend having your child take safe and monitored lessons with a specialized instructor at a specialized facility that has a swim program tailored towards autistic children. This exposes them to the sensation of water in a reliable environment, while teaching them swimming skills and allowing them to enjoy the water in a safe manner.
Teach children to swim either on your own or through lessons in the community
- National Autism Association | Locations that offer Special Needs Swimming Instruction (https://nationalautismassociation.org/resources/autism-safety-facts/swimming-instructions)
- Adapted Aquatics Special Needs Swimming Lessons (Coastal Connecticut YMCA) (https://cccymca.org/blog/2011/09/21/adapted-aquatics-special-needs-swimming-lessons/)
3) Actively Pay Attention When Your Child Is In And Around The Water
It’s one thing to supervise children when at the pool or at the beach. However, in the general population, 9 out of 10 drowning deaths occur when a parent is supervising but not paying attention. If you have a pool, it is important to know when your child is in or out of the water.
Assign a responsible adult to monitor children playing in the pool. Rotate after 15-20 minutes. This is to ensure that all adults are given an opportunity to watch the children and still enjoy pool activities themselves!
Actively watching your child swim and play in the pool is important for their safety and immensely reduces the risks of anything occurring. We recommend staying within arms reach of your child to ensure they stay safe in a swimming pool.
Additionally, make sure that you have safety precautions and rules instilled, such as “no going in the pool without an adult”. In case your child tends to wander regardless, have an alarm on the door to the outside, a pool motion sensor, and install a gate around your pool with a self closing hinge and latch. Plus, having approved flotation devices in and around the pool could help save your child from drowning.
If your neighbors have pools, or you are located near a large body of water, let those in your neighborhood be aware of your child’s tendency to wander with the neighbor alert letter. Overall, actively paying attention to when your child is near an open body of water can save their life.
Benefits of Swimming
Once safety is established, being in the water can be therapeutic for your child. It has been shown that swimming can improve one’s mood, confidence and self esteem. A study conducted by Pan and Frey (2006) describes participation in regular physical activity as beneficial for aiding in physical fitness, motor performance, behavior, and positive social outcomes for children with disabilities. Additionally, water provides an environment for enriched sensory play. A 2007 study by Tomcheck and Dunn demonstrated that water play, “provides consistent resistance, pressure, and temperature, which may moderate sensory arousal [which] may be valuable for meeting sensory needs while supporting healthy leisure engagement.” Encouraging your child to learn to swim will give them a greater sense of independence.
We hope that you take these safety tips into consideration. Swim safety is important for all children, and it must be taken seriously for a child with autism spectrum disorder (asd). Talk to your child’s ABA therapist about any questions or concerns you have for your child.