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  • Writer's pictureAtlantic Autism Services, Inc

Water Safety: Tips and Tools

Enjoying the water, especially in the hot summer, is something we can all enjoy, but it is also important to take precautions when demonstrating water safety. Below are some guidelines for staying safe on the water!

1. Start Early

It is never too early to start teaching your child the importance of water safety. Expose your child to water at a young age so he or she can become comfortable around it. Use visuals or social stories to teach rules related to water and maximize learning. Visit a pool/beach before you plan to go swimming there to help familiarize your child with the environment. Review rules and expectations of water safety often, especially when you know you will be near water. Understanding your child’s fascination with water (reflections, sensory stimulation) can help you educate them properly.

2. Sign Up for Swim Lessons

It is never too early (or too late) to teach your child to swim. Many organizations offer lessons specifically for children with special needs. Remember that special needs swim lessons aren't just about swimming itself, but about how to be safe around water.

YMCA locations in OBX and Elizabeth City offer special needs swimming lessons.

Kathleen McAllister-Morgan


Christen Buchert


3. Emphasize the Dangers of Water

Staying safe around water is about more than just the ability to swim. Make sure individuals with autism understand the importance of water safety. Some children and adults with autism are capable swimmers, but their attraction to water can still lead them into dangerous situations - like swimming too far into the ocean or entering water that is polluted, too deep, or an unsafe temperature. Visuals with rules related to water and social stories with what to expect are great resources to teach all of the dangers associated with water.

4. Take Precautions to Prevent Wandering

If your child is drawn to water, take safety precautions to keep him or her away. If you have a pool or live near one, be sure the pool is gated and inaccessible. Bright “Stop” signs can be put up near dangerous areas. Put window and door alarms on your home so you know if your child has left unsupervised. Never leave your child unaccompanied or out of your sight near water.

5. Spread the Word

Let your neighbors know about your child's tendency to wander and his or her attraction to water so they can be on high alert. A flyer with information specific to your child can help them know what to do. You may also want to alert first responders in your area. When you go swimming, notify lifeguards that your child has autism and may not respond to verbal commands.

6. Know the signs of Drowning

  • Head low in the water with mouth at water level

  • Head tilted back with mouth open

  • Eyes glassy and empty, unable to focus

  • Eyes closed

  • Hair over forehead or eyes

  • Not using legs and vertical in the water

  • Hyperventilating or gasping

  • Trying to swim in a particular direction but not making progress

  • Trying to roll over on the back

  • Appears to be climbing an invisible ladder

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