Keeping an eye on your child can be a challenging task especially now that summer is here and kids want to play outside or go to parks and beaches with their families. This task can be especially challenging for families with autistic children. And water safety concerns are also particularly heightened for families of children with autism, says Varleisha Gibbs, OTD, OTR/L, occupational therapy professor at University of the Sciences in Philadelphia.
“Although water safety is a concern for all parents, children with autism are especially at a higher risk fordrowning because they may seek isolation by fleeing to unfamiliar territories,” says Dr. Gibbs. Drowning actually accounted for approximately 90 percent of the total U.S. deaths reported in children with autism ages 14 and younger, according to statistics from the National Autism Society. Research shows that about 50% of children with autism tend to flee or escape a safe environment and put themselves in dangerous situations. Dr. Gibbs outlines some tips for families during this hot summer:
- Learn to swim: enroll your child in swimming or water safety classes as soon as possible
- Visual learning: Use videos and images to talk to your child about water safety
- Display reminders: if your child responds well to visual cues, consider posting signs on doors that lead to outside such as STOP or DO NOT ENTER, or even a hand signaling “stop”
- Key information: Make sure your child knows his or her name, address, and phone number in case of an emergency. If they are nonverbal, they should wear a bracelet or have theiridentification information on them at all times.
- Avoid sensory-overload: Try to prepare your child ahead of time for what they can expect as they enter a new environment such as a beach or theme park.
- Alert others: Communicate with your neighbors and others in your community to alert you immediately if they see children wandering by themselves.
“Swimming and aquatic therapy is actually a wonderful sport for children with autism because it can address many of their body’s sensory and motor needs. By preparing and communicating with your child with autism, family, and friends, summer trips and activities can be much less stressful and more enjoyable,” says Dr. Gibbs.