Beyond the B.A.S.I.C.S. Blog

Water Safety and Autism

June 11, 2015


Here is a great article on water safety and Autism http://www.autismconsortium.org/blog/detail/water-safety

Water Safety

Tags: News and Advice; Resource Guide

By: Daniel Vogel

As summer rolls around, many parents find themselves spending more time near water – at pools, ponds, or beaches. It is always important to keep safety in mind. As a former lifeguard for several summers, I know that many dangerous situations in water arise because parents simply do not know the safety guidelines. I have compiled a list of suggestions that will make visiting pools, ponds, and beaches a better, safer, and more fun experience for everyone!

Water Safety Pointers
1) Make sure that your child is around water as early as possible in his/her life.

The American Society of Pediatrics recommends that children take swimming lessons between the ages of 1 and 4, but of course whenever you decide to acclimate your child to water is completely at your discretion. Doing simple activities with your child in water can greatly help him/her get used to being in this new setting. Professionals suggest beginning by touching the water or blowing bubbles in the water, to help children feel more comfortable. Attend a water acclimation or swim class with your child. The YMCA Boston offers classes for children aged 6 months-5 years. You can sign up for these classes here.

2) Go at your child’s own pace.

Make sure to be patient with your child when he or she is learning to swim. Their path to comfort in the water may be different from other children. Do not allow your child to rush his learning process by swimming in the deep end or jumping off the diving board. Achieving maximum water safety for your child should be an interactive process, ending with both you and your child feeling comfortable that they can swim independently.

3) Proactively watch your child in a water area.

Simply being with your child or passing off child watching duties in a water setting is not enough. As a lifeguard, the majority of the problems I encountered stemmed from a lack of child supervision even when the parent was present at the pool. Don’t assume that because your child has mastered swimming, that they can be left unsupervised.  An accident could happen anytime.

4) Many children on the autism spectrum lack the awareness of the dangers around them so they are at a higher risk than other children when in the water

In particular, these can include threats related to water depth, water temperature, current, and slippery surfaces. Make sure that you pay very careful attention to where your child is at all times. Simple safety tips like staying away from scalding/freezing water or keeping out of a riptide, may not be obvious to your child.

5)  Be aware that wandering can be a big problem especially in pond, lake, or beach settings.

Studies have shown that wandering of any kind can be a dangerous hazard for children on the autism spectrum. However, being close to water can make it that much more serious. The National Autism Association stated that “autism-related wandering is not uncommon, and many of these children go straight to nearby water.” The NAA posted this checklist to help parents prevent wandering incidents. Our safety packet can also be accessed from the resources tab of this site.

6) While your child may object, ensure that he/she is wearing water safety gear.

Being the oldest of four in my family, I am no stranger to the struggle of getting a child to wear floaties or a life-jacket. While they may present a sensory challenge to your child, they can be very helpful in aiding them in water. PLEASE NOTE wearing floaties or a life jacket does not make your child completely safe. Children wearing devices to assist them in water still require active supervision from an adult.

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