The summer is heating up so it’s a good time to remember the importance of water safety. Your grandchild may love pools, beaches, or lakes! Sadly, water is also extremely dangerous. Of course we all know this, but children with autism are more likely than other children to drown? The number of reports of a child with autism who wandered from his home and was later found drowned in the neighborhood pond warrants special attention. This is a year-round concern but since summer is often a time in which we collectively seek out opportunities to enjoy the water, it makes a good time to consider this important issue. Every child with autism is certainly different, but the fact that the cases of drowning among children with autism is higher than normal means we need to pay extra attention to this. Here are some key facts and recommendations:
During January, 2000 through May, 2017, US newspapers reported 23 fatal drowning incidents involving 18 boys and 5 girls with ASD.
The age of those victims ranged from 3 to 14 years (mean = 7.7 ± 2.9 years).
The drowning incidents reported occurred in ponds (52.2%), rivers (13.0%), and lakes (13.0%).
In those reports, wandering was the most commonly reported activity that led to drowning, accounting for 73.9% of the incidents.
Source: Guan, J. & Li, G. (2017). Characteristics of unintentional drowning deaths in children with autism spectrum disorder. Injury Epidemiology, 4 (32).
What can we do to help?
Increased Awareness and Monitoring:
Monitoring our grandchildren is the best step in preventing drowning. Monitoring can be enhanced by installing door chimes that signal when a door or window is opened, including fence gates and patio doors. These chimes signal to us when someone is entering or leaving an area. It only takes a few seconds for a child to wander away so something as simple as stepping out of the room to grab something might be enough of an opportunity for a child to wander outside the home. We want to give children space and freedom, yet we need to be mindful that wandering is a serious issue. Using simple technology solutions such as these can go a long way in helping us in our monitoring efforts. The following guide from the Autism Society provides more information about home safety: https://www.autism-society.org/living-with-autism/how-the-autism-society-can-help/safe-and-sound/safety-in-the-home/
Another great step in prevention is teaching a child how to swim. Many children love water but without formal instruction on how to be in water safely, it can pose a risk. Swim lessons can be provided year-round in indoor pools and many centers now offer specialized swimming classes for children with ASD. The National Autism Association offers a list of specialized programs on their website: https://nationalautismassociation.org/resources/autism-safety-facts/swimming-instructions/
In general, our grandchildren need to be taught about safety. Using social stories, video modeling, and direct instruction, we can teach and reinforce safety skills. Your grandchild’s teacher or school may be able to provide or guide you to appropriate instruction. The Autism Community in Action provides a list of educational resources on their website: https://tacanow.org/family-resources/water-safety/
When wandering is of serious concern, there is technology children can wear at all times to locate them. These are often no to low cost and can be fitted by your county or local law enforcement agency. For information on Project Lifesaver or to find resources on this near you, visit: https://projectlifesaver.org/