Make a Splash by Teaching Children with Autism Water Safety

Date: May 1, 2017

By: Vikki Elmore, M.Ed., BCBA, Director, Sumter Clinic

Temperatures are rising and summer is fast approaching. There are so many things children love about the summer and spending days at a pool or lake is often at the top of the list. There is nothing more fun than splashing around in the water on a hot summer day, but it’s important children understand the water can also be dangerous.

According to the National Autism Association, drowning is among the leading causes of death among children with autism. So, what can parents do to ensure their children understand and practice water safety?

Below you will find a few tips to help ensure you and your family enjoy a relaxing, safe summer:

  1. Introduce your child to the water. Swimming has been found to be incredibly therapeutic for children with autism so you want their first experience to be a positive one. Before enrolling in more formal training, try taking your child to a pool so he/she can get slowly acclimated to the water.
  2. Enroll your child in swimming lessons. Research shows the chances of drowning are reduced by 88 percent when children receive swimming lessons by age 4. Local YMCAs and similar programs often provide swimming lessons for a reasonable cost. And, some provide classes specifically for children with developmental and behavioral disabilities.
  3. Ensure your child is supervised closely at all times. Due to their unique sensory issues, children with autism are especially drawn to the water and are often more likely to wander off. It is important parents pay attention and monitor their child’s whereabouts at all times. A child can disappear in a second and drown in less than an inch of water.
  4. Purchase water safety gear. Life jackets, floaties and other floatation devices are an absolute must for children when they are around water. Be warned the gear may cause a sensory challenge at first, but your child will adapt to the flotation device over time.
  5. Educate your child of the dangers. Spend time with your child explaining the importance of never wandering off, only going near water when there is an adult in arm’s length and always wearing the proper water safety attire. It is also important to explain potential dangers of slippery surfaces and various water depths.

We want all our clients and their families to have fun this summer. Just remember to be safe and discuss the importance of water safety at home. If you need help identifying a swimming class in your area, consult with your BCBA or contact your local EAP clinic for recommendations.

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