Sink or Swim: Avoiding an Autism-Related Drowning


autism swimming

The number one cause of death of individuals with autism involve incidents associated with wandering, which include exposure to the elements and drowning. Both occur frequently and a quick glance at the latest autism news headlines will reinforce these unfortunate statistics.

Children with autism are typically drawn to water. Regardless of the tactile stage of recovery, we came from a safe, liquid-filled womb that the subconscious still remembers well. Furthermore, water is soft and exerts equal, unchanging pressure evenly across the body, thereby preventing the trigger of painful touch issues often found with tactile and sensory dysfunction.

Then there is the problem of not always having gag or panic reflexes. Autopsies of autistic persons involved in accidents typically show no signs of struggle. Most incidents involving a drowning happen within seconds, even to those with autism who have been in the water numerous times. When submerged, water is inhaled into the lungs as if there were no built-in receptors to stop this from happening. From bathtubs, to lakes and even public fountains, individuals with autism will be drawn to water and need to be protected.

Since we can’t enclose our neighbor’s pools or the water fountains in community parks, what shall we do?

The answer is quite simple: we must enroll our children in swimming lessons. The YMCA is not just a great song from the 1970’s, but a great and often forgotten resource that is very helpful for many activities. Membership at your local "Y" will be very beneficial to both you and your child. Upon joining, tell everyone that your child has autism. They may already have some good awareness or they might need some time to do research.

Drownings are happening at an alarming rate to those with autism. Protecting your child can start by notifying your neighbors with pools and spas that your child is autistic and is drawn to water. Public awareness is your responsibility and swimming lessons are a must. They are also fun.

Get started immediately and don’t allow your child to become another tragic statistic. You will find that the time spent together in and around the pool area will be rewarding and a tremendous bonding experience as well.

Click here to locate a YMCA in your area

6 Responses to Sink or Swim: Avoiding an Autism-Related Drowning

  1. kerin morgan says:

    I have worked with students withint he Autism Spectrum for 20 years now. I must tell yoiu that the average YMCA does not have instructors aware of how to teach children with Autism. Please look for a good swim school that has instructors that have some traiing and have studies way sot approach autsim and aquatics. These will usually be your independent swim schools.

  2. swim whisperers is a training dvd addressing the 14 most commonly seen roadblocks in teaching children with sensory issues how to swim. This tool can be used to train your entire staff.

  3. Gina B says:

    I’d love to to that for my Zoe, like I did for our daughter with Down syndrome, but even though our local swim facility has special needs lessons, if she won’t take instruction, she can’t enroll. My husband is currently teaching her. The problem is that she thinks she knows how to swim, but doesn’t, and so takes risk. She can float, and she’s getting there, but not quite yet, so we swim a lot. Thank you for alerting me to the fact about the “no struggle”! I had no idea.

    Another great tip: Learn the signs of drowning. Drowning looks EXACTLY like treading water, it’s the child’s inability to keep mouth/nose out of water while doing this that can allow them to drown WHILE you are watching them. Learned this last year, and observed Zoe doing it. SCARY!

  4. Joni Marmie-Bennett says:

    We tried private lessons, it didn’t work. So we started buying ring-top pools, starting out small. Under supervision, mine learned to swim underwater first, like they felt it was natural or something. Every couple years we went up a size (depth) but they were swimming above water within a couple weeks as 4 years olds. We now have a fullsize and they are fantastic swimmers, even in the ocean. But the beach still makes ME a little anxious watching them. Mine are teenagers now.

  5. Lula says:

    Please try and list the stats for these wandering problems. I know this may be an estimate but it’s something we need to do to be able to really discuss the problem.

  6. Melissa says:

    My 11 year old daughter has taken swim lessons for several years and was quite a proficient swimmer. Last summer I took my eyes off of her while watching my nieces and nephews swimming. She had a near drowning experience while in swimming in a pool that she could stand up in. Praise God we acted quickly, CPR was proformed and she was revived within a couple of minutes. Two months ago she was diagnosed with Aspergers. I never understood why she drowned. It didn’t make any sense she was 10,a seasoned swimmer and in a pool she could easily stand in. I guess my point is just because you think your child can swim don’t take your eyes off them, don’t relax. I found this article very interesting and plan to do more research on the correlation between drowning and autism.

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Did You Know?

  • * In 1970, Autism affected 1 out of 10,000 children
  • * Autism now affects 1 out of 88 children
  • * Autism affects 1 in 54 boys
  • * 1.7 million Americans have some form of autism
  • * 4 out of 5 autistic children are boys

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