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Water Safety Tips for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Water safety is a crucial concern for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Research has indicated that individuals with ASD face a higher risk of drowning compared to the general population. This heightened risk can be attributed to various factors, including a propensity to wander, sensory-seeking behaviours, and associated medical conditions. In this blog, we will explore the reasons behind this increased risk and discuss essential strategies for ensuring the safety of children with ASD around water.


Understanding the Risk Factors:

Children with ASD often have a strong attraction to water and a tendency to wander, which can lead to dangerous situations. They may seek out water as a means of sensory input or to retreat from overwhelming stimuli, such as noise or crowds. However, they may not fully comprehend the risks associated with entering the water unsupervised. Studies conducted between 2003 and 2018 revealed that ASD was a primary factor in 0.7% of total drowning deaths in Australia, with 70% of drownings in the 0-9 age group being ASD-related.


Providing Support and Education:

It is essential to provide children with ASD the necessary support and education to help them stay safe in and around water. Evidence-based strategies often involve enrolling them in small group swimming lessons conducted by specialized instructors who understand their unique needs and goals. However, it's important to note that skills learned in the pool may not automatically transfer to other aquatic environments, such as the beach or bath, requiring ongoing supervision and water safety education in different settings. Close supervision, water safety education, and exposure to various aquatic environments play key roles in preventing drowning incidents in children with ASD.


Tips for Ensuring Water Safety:

1. Supervision: Always actively supervise children with ASD around water. Keep your attention always focused on them, both in and out of the water. Due to their tendency to wander, it is strongly recommended to provide close supervision at all times.


2. Restrict Access: Implement measures to restrict access to water sources. Close bathroom doors after use, cover pools and spas, fence pool areas, when possible, and remove water toys when not in use. In some jurisdictions, inflatable pools deeper than 30cm must be fenced as per local regulations.


3. Teach Water Awareness: Help children with ASD become familiar with water and develop water safety awareness. Check for and remove any potential water hazards, establish rules regarding water activities, and engage in discussions about water safety. Some individuals with ASD may require small group or one-on-one lessons with specialized instructors or allied health professionals trained to work with individuals on the spectrum.


4. Respond: Learn CPR and first aid skills to be prepared to respond to emergencies effectively. These skills can be invaluable in saving lives in critical situations.


Further Resources:

For more information and guidance on water safety for children with ASD, the following resources can provide valuable insights:


1. Autism Swim (https://autismswim.com.au/)

2. Autism SA (https://autismsa.org.au/)


Conclusion:

Water safety is a vital aspect of caring for children with autism spectrum disorder. By understanding the unique risks associated with ASD and implementing appropriate measures, parents and caregivers can ensure the safety and well-being of their children around water. Through supervision, access restriction, water education, and emergency preparedness, we can create a safer environment for individuals with ASD to enjoy the benefits of water activities.

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