10 Things Parents of Autistic Parents Should Know: Drowning Prevention

President Stacy Hoag of the Florida Autism Society offers her top tips for parents and caregivers of autistic children should know to prevent drowning.  

- Kids with autism are DRAWN to water. They love the way it shimmers, bubbles, and feels on the skin. That, paired with their lack of danger awareness, can easily lead to a lethal combination.


- Kids with autism drown at a rate 160 times greater than those who are typically developing. In addition, 48% of all kids with ASD wander from parents and safe adults, and 74% of drowning is a result of wandering. Knowing that 76% of all children who drown are age 3 and under, we must be diligent in keeping doors locked, pools gated and locked, alarms on doors and NEVER assume that a child cannot get out of the house.


- Never leave a child unattended, no matter how much you think they won't jump into the water on their own or seek out a neighbor’s pool.


- Be sure that your child gets swimming lessons. This is of utmost importance. Do not assume, no matter what a school has reported as your child’s IQ score, that you don’t make a false assumption that they cannot learn to swim. If you’re allowing your child to use a flotation device of any kind, establish a fading out process asap.


- People with autism often have very poor generalization skills, that's why they might show that they know how to read at home, but don't show it in the classroom. The same thing happens with swimming. They may exhibit swimming skills in one pool, but not in another. Parents must have their child spend time in different swimming environments to be certain that their child has enough skills to stay alive in the water.


- When beginning the swimming lesson process, prepare students for the loud sound of the lifeguards’ whistles. Demonstrate the whistles, explain why they are used, and possibly allow the student to blow the whistle.


- Allow your child time to familiarize themselves with the pool, the instructor, and objects they will be using, like their kickboard, goggles or fins. This helps to minimize social difficulties and discomfort that a child with autism might experience.


- Ask your swimming school if they can offer a ‘quiet room’ or space. It doesn’t need to be an actual room, but this would be an area away from the noise and activities where your child could go if he/she needs a quiet break.


- Prepare laminated visuals of swimming lesson expectations, pool rules and rewards. Develop social stories about what kids can expect when they begin swimming lessons. Using individual pictures of your child and his/her teacher would be great and more meaningful.


- If your child has a hard time with crowds, ask the school if they can adjust the student-teacher ratio at “off” times. Many students with ASD perform better in smaller classes. Also see how flexible they will be with standard requirements, such as wearing swimming caps, which lots of kids with ASD can’t handle.


AND most of all… HAVE FUN