Water Safety Rules for Children with ASD

February 27, 2018

If you’re the parent or caregiver of a child with autism, chances are you are well aware of the risks they face when it comes to wandering and water. As you likely know, wandering is hugely common among children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and because they’re also often fascinated with water, they can very easily find themselves in danger when they elope from safety.

The good news for parents and caregivers is, as this article from KidsHealth.org notes, children with special needs also often respond well to “discipline and structure.” And with that in mind, here are some rules you can teach your child to keep them safe by the water.

No getting in without an adult. A child may wander, but if they’re aware of certain rules, it will help prevent them from going near or trying to get in bodies of water. One such rule as Autism Digest explains in its article on water safety is that they shouldn’t get close to water without an adult present. It also suggests making the rule even more specific by telling them they shouldn’t go near water unless an adult is within arm’s length.

Follow the signs. Visual reminders can be very helpful in preventing wandering. In this Washington Post article on wandering and children with autism, a parent explains that she has stop signs posted on the doors in her home. It is also a good idea to post similar signs on pool gates and/or fences. Doing so is a great way to prompt a child with autism to stop and think about what they’re doing, either to prevent them from wandering from the home or from wandering into a pool area.

Stay together. This rule will come in handy when you’re out in public with your child. KidPower.org explains that one way to manage wandering in people with autism is to teach them to “stay together.” Before you go out with your child, the article suggests the two of you “make a plan that you are going to ‘stay together.’” It also recommends ways you can practice staying together through games. For example, move around in different directions as your child works to stay by your side. It’s a fun way for them to learn the importance of always being close to you.

Remember what you learned. If the worst-case scenario happens—your child wanders and finds themselves in the water—make sure they know to use the skills they’ve learned in their swim lessons. This educational guide on the benefits of aquatic therapy for kids with ASD explains the life-saving benefits of teaching a child on the autism spectrum how to swim.

It also provides information on how to find a swim program in your area that is capable of teaching children with special needs how to swim. So, if your child can’t swim, work to get them into classes as soon as possible. And if they can, help them strengthen their skills so that they’ll be ready if they ever were to find themselves in water unsupervised by an adult.

Wandering is a huge area of concern for every parent of a child with autism. And the unfortunate reality is that regardless of the number of precautions parents take to keep their children from wandering, children with ASD can often find ways around those safety measures. When you teach your child these and other water safety rules, you can give them the skills and information they need to keep themselves safe.

Vee Cecil is a wellness coach, personal trainer, and bootcamp instructor. She is passionate about studying and sharing her findings in wellness through her blog. She lives in Kentucky with her family.

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