Skip navigation

Calls to Action

Autism Speaks awards swimming and water safety scholarships as part of comprehensive safety program

Since 2014, the Swimming and Water Safety Scholarship Fund has benefited 2,000 children and adults nationwide

New York, N.Y. (June 7, 2016) – As part of a comprehensive safety and wandering prevention program, Autism Speaks today announced that its Swimming and Water Safety Scholarship Fund has awarded a total of  $28,000 to 16 programs nationwide. The scholarships from Autism Speaks, the world’s leading autism science and advocacy organization, will be distributed by local organizations in 14 states.

The need is urgent: An Interactive Autism Network survey, partially funded by Autism Speaks, found that 49 percent of children with autism wander or bolt. Summer fun near the pool or shore requires heightened vigilance because, for reasons researchers do not yet understand, many people with autism are attracted to bodies of water. In 2015, police departments nationwide documented more than 30 wandering-related deaths of people with autism spectrum disorder, most caused by accidental drowning.

Swimming and water safety are necessary and lifesaving skills. Since 2014, Autism Speaks has awarded $500,000 to 112 swimming and water safety programs in 30 states. Because of that assistance, more than 2,000 people have taken classes they could not otherwise afford.

"As a parent of a young child with autism who is very attracted to water and has no understanding of danger, I am so excited to have found this swim program for my son,” wrote the parent of a scholarship recipient. “Christopher only uses three words on a consistent basis. To hear him repeat ‘kick’ after the instructor and then to see him actually begin to kick brought tears to my eyes – and to hers!"

To make water activities safe and enjoyable, Autism Speaks awards scholarship funding on a quarterly basis to community-based organizations. They must have a history of successfully providing services to financially disadvantaged children and adults with autism. The programs then use the funds to grant individual scholarships.


-       Athens YMCA – Athens, Ga.

-       Autism Society of Southern Arizona – Tucson, Ariz.

-       Camp Shriver at the University of Massachusetts Boston – Boston, Mass.

-       City of Hialeah Parks and Recreation – Hialeah, Fla.

-       City of Lincoln Parks and Recreation – Lincoln, Neb.

-       Courage League Sports – Urbandale, Iowa

-       Greater Marinette-Menominee YMCA – Menominee, Mich.

-       Holland Community Aquatic Center – Holland, Mich.

-       Jennersville YMCA – West Grove, Pa.

-       KEEN St. Louis (Kids Enjoy Exercise Now) – St. Louis, Mo.

-       Kennett Area YMCA – Kennett Square, Pa.

-       Northern Suburban Special Recreation Association – Northbrook, Ill.

-       Solutions Behavioral Consulting – Macedonia, Ohio

-       The Bridge Center – Bridgewater, Mass.

-       The Shorkey Center – Beaumont, Texas

-       Via Services, Inc. – Santa Clara, Calif.

“While these scholarships are especially important during the summer, they are part of a year-round emphasis on enhancing the safety of people with autism, at every stage of life,” said Lisa Goring, Autism Speaks executive vice president of programs and services. Safety initiatives include wandering-prevention resources and tool kits. In partnership with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Autism Speaks conducts safety-training for people with autism and their families, caregivers and first responders nationwide. So far, those sessions have trained more than 21,600 people.

Autism Speaks encourages families to contact local organizations that provide swimming lessons and ask them to submit an application for scholarship funding. The next application deadline is August 15, 2016.

About Autism

Autism is a general term used to describe a group of complex developmental brain disorders – autism spectrum disorders – caused by a combination of genes and environmental influences. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by communication difficulties, social and behavioral challenges, and repetitive behaviors. An estimated 1 in 68 children in the U.S. is on the autism spectrum. 

About Autism Speaks

Autism Speaks is the world’s leading autism science and advocacy organization. It is dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism; increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders; and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families. Autism Speaks was founded in February 2005 by Suzanne and Bob Wright, the grandparents of a child with autism. Since its inception, Autism Speaks has committed more than $570 million to its mission, the majority in science and medical research. On the global front, Autism Speaks has established partnerships in more than 70 countries on five continents to foster international research, services and awareness. To learn more about Autism Speaks, please visit


            Aurelia Grayson



            Jacqueline Kepping