Water safety is especially critical for children and adults with autism, as many individuals on the spectrum are drawn to water, some of whom are unable to understand the dangers associated with it. Tragically, the leading cause of death among individuals with autism after wandering is drowning.
Autism Speaks has put together some tips to help keep your child safe around water.
1. Start Early
It is never too early to start teaching your child the importance of water safety. Expose your child to water at a young age so he or she can become comfortable around it. Use visuals like picture cards or social stories to teach rules related to water and maximize learning. Be on the lookout for a tendency toward or special interest in water.
You can personalize a story about water safety from Twigtales here.
2. Sign Up for Swim Lessons
The most obvious way to help prevent tragedy around water is to teach your child to swim. Many organizations offer lessons specifically for children with special needs. Check to see if there is an Autism Speaks grant recipient swim program near you here. Remember that special needs swim lessons aren't just about swimming itself, but about how to be safe around water.
Many YMCAs offer special needs swim instruction, so this could be another option to consider. Find the location nearest you here. Swim Angelfish is a swim program that has produced some videos with tips and strategies for teaching swimming on their YouTube page. Keep the lessons fun and interactive.
If you aren't aware of any formal programs, see if an avid swimmer or special education teacher in your area can help with lessons.
3. Emphasize the Dangers of Water
Staying safe around water is about more than just the ability to swim. A second component is making sure individuals with autism understand the importance of water safety. Some children and adults with autism are capable swimmers, but their attraction to water can still lead them into dangerous situations - like a river with a strong current, a shallow pool or an unsafe temperature. Make sure the individual understands all of the dangers associated with water.
4. Take Precautions to Prevent Wandering
If your child is drawn to water, take safety precautions to keep him or her away. If you have a pool or live near one, be sure the pool is gated and inaccessible. Put window and door alarms on your home so you know if your child has left unsupervised. Never leave your child unaccompanied or out of your sight near water.
Autism Speaks has many wandering prevention resources here.
5. Spread the Word
Let your neighbors know about your child's tendency to wander and his or her attraction to water so they can be on high alert. A flyer with information specific to your child can be very helpful. You can find an example of a Neighbor Alert Letter here.
You may also want to alert first responders in your area. Fill out this Autism Elopment Alert Form to share information specifically about your child.
For additional safety information and resources, contact the Autism Speaks Autism Response Team at 888-288-4762 (Spanish 888-772-9050) or email@example.com.