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Water Safety for Children with Autism

Written by:
Vee Cecil, Personal Trainer and Wellness Coach,

Drowning is one of the leading causes of death for children with autism. That statistic is certainly startling. But what makes it even more devastating is that with the right measures in place drowning deaths can be prevented. To understand how to prevent these drownings, it’s important that parents and caregivers understand why children with autism are at such high risk.

Two factors are at play. One, many children with autism have a tendency to wander. In fact, according to the National Autism Association, 48 percent will try to elope. And two, many children with autism love water. When children with autism wander to bodies of water—pools, ponds, lakes, etc.—they can very quickly place themselves in danger. Tragically, in an attempt to get closer to the water, many fall in and aren’t able to swim to safety.

Parents and caregivers of children with autism can help to protect their children by teaching them about the dangers of water as well as how to interact with it safely. Here are a few tips to implement in order to keep children with autism safe around water.

Check water first.

Many children with autism have a tendency to wander. If this is an issue with your child and they go missing, the Autism Wandering Awareness Alerts Response and Education Collaboration (AWAARE) explains that you should always check any bodies of water—pools, ponds, lakes, etc.—first in your search. Be sure to safeguard your children from wandering.

Due to the steep increase in wandering problems among individuals with autism, the National Autism Association of the US created two digital safety toolkits to help caregivers and first responders take action in case of an emergency wandering case. This toolkit is excellent to help parents understand and take precaution from wandering and first responders – a checklist on what to look out for and do when coming across a wanderer.

Click here to download for Caregiver Toolkit | First Responder Toolkit

Make swim lessons a priority.

The best way for your child to be able to protect themselves around water is to know how to swim. This extensive guide on aquatic therapy for children with autism features several pieces of advice on how learning to swim will benefit your child and on how to find a swim lesson program that will work for them.

It also touches on another reason why swimming is great for kids with autism. It protects them by keeping them physically healthy. As the guide notes, more than half of children with autism are overweight. Swimming is the perfect activity for them because it is a wonderful cardiovascular exercise that is great for building muscle and is easy on the body’s joints.

Make sure neighborhood pools are fenced in.

If you’re a pool owner and the parent or caregiver of a child with autism, it’s easy for you to make sure your pool is properly fenced in and that the gate is always locked. However, your neighbors may not be as vigilant. Be open with them about your child’s needs. Ask them to always, always keep their pool gates closed and locked and to keep their fences clear of any objects that could be used to climb over them. If your child wanders, ask them to keep an eye on their pool and to alert you immediately if they see your child. If your child does go missing, ask neighbors to check their pools immediately.

Establish the “#1 rule.”

Autism Asperger’s Digest makes the distinction that learning to swim and learning about water safety are two separate skills that should be addressed separately with your child.  The “#1” water safety rule you should impart to your child is never to go near any body of water if an adult isn’t present.

To help teach your child water safety rules, social stories work best to reiterate and reinforce rules for water and pool safety.

The payoff is huge. Not only will your child be safer, but chances are they’ll love swimming and the many benefits it brings. The following are several resources to help you or other caregivers safeguard your child from water harm.


Water Safety Social Story

I Stay in my House Social Story

If I get Lost Social Story

Big Red Safety Toolkit for Caregivers

Big Red Safety Toolkit for First Responders