As summer quickly approaches, naturally, we all gravitate to the water to have fun, keep cool, and enjoy the weather. Water activities can be both enjoyable and beneficial for children, offering them a chance to have fun and develop important play, motor, and social skills. 

However, water safety is especially important for children with autism. These children often face challenges with sensory processing, communication, and understanding of danger, which can increase their vulnerability around water. To ensure you and your kids have a safe and enjoyable summer, it is important to stay informed of the significance of water safety for children with autism. 

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Understanding the risks of water activities

Children with autism may be drawn to water due to its sensory appeal or simply out of curiosity, making them more prone to wandering towards bodies of water or engaging in unsafe behaviors around water sources. Additionally, communication and social processing difficulties can make it challenging for them to recognize and respond to potential dangers in their environments. 

These factors significantly elevate the risk of drowning incidents among children with autism, making water safety education and supervision incredibly important. The unfortunate reality is that drowning is the leading cause of death for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) who elope or wander. 

Our tips for ensuring water safety

  • Supervision is Key: Constant and vigilant supervision is key to preventing accidents. Always keep a close eye on your child when near water, regardless of their swimming ability. Designate a responsible adult to actively supervise them at all times.
  • Practice Good Habits Early On: It’s never too early to begin educating your child about water safety! Under the supervision of a responsible adult, your child will begin to become familiar and comfortable with water safely. If your child has an interest in water or gravitates towards it, use that curiosity as a teaching moment.
  • Communicate With Social Stories: Use visual aids, social stories, and clear, concise language to explain water safety rules and expectations to your child. Rehearse and reinforce these concepts regularly to enhance your child's understanding of safe activities near or in the water.
  • Establish Boundaries: Clearly define safe areas for water play and establish boundaries using physical barriers or visual cues. Teach your child to stay within these boundaries and reinforce the importance of respecting them. If you have a pool, it may help to add alert mechanisms to doors that lead directly to the outside so that you are notified when your child exits the home.
  • Use Life Jackets and Floatation Devices: When participating in water activities, ensure your child wears a properly fitted life jacket or floatation device–even if they are proficient swimmers. These devices provide an added layer of safety and peace of mind. In the event of an emergency, ensure that there is a ring or flotation device that is easily accessible and quick to implement.
  • Practice Water Safety Drills: Conduct regular water safety drills with your child to practice skills such as floating, treading water, and calling for help. Make these drills interactive and engaging to keep your child motivated and prepared.
  • Utilize Sensory Tools and Encourage Breaks: Consider incorporating sensory tools such as earplugs or swim goggles to help your child feel more comfortable and secure in the water. Pay attention to signs of sensory overload or anxiety in your child and provide breaks or modifications as needed to ensure a positive water experience.
  • Be Transparent: Talk to neighbors, friends, and family members about your child and their tendency to wander so that they can watch and be on alert. You can also alert first responders in your area that you have a child with autism who wanders or elopes so that they are more prepared if there is an incident.

Water safety is a critical concern for children with autism, requiring proactive measures and ongoing education to minimize the risk of accidents. By implementing the tips outlined and prioritizing supervision, communication, and skill-building, parents and caregivers can create a safer environment for their children to enjoy the many benefits of water activities. 

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