Awareness and Proper Supervision Can Help Reduce the Danger of Water
Drowning is the leading cause of death for children with autism and recent reports show that children with ASD are 160 times more likely to die from drowning than the general population of children (Gleeson, 2016), which sometimes leads to parents avoiding water all together.
Also, if individuals on the spectrum have not developed a level of comfort or the proper skillset to know what to do when confronted with water, this could lead to sensory overload when those encounters occur. Signs of sensory overload can vary for each individual, but typically there are ways to recognize these signs and reduce or prevent sensory overload or “meltdowns”.
This is one of the reasons why it’s so important to have children with autism have experiences in water with trained professionals. If they can develop a comfort level and get practice in the water under proper supervision, then being around water will be that much safer for them in other areas of life.
Autism and Affinity for Water
Aquatic activities and hydrotherapy have been shown to increase social interaction, confidence, and independence in children with ASD (Kumar et al., 2014).
While no studies have been done on why people with autism tend to be drawn to water more often than other individuals, there is substantial anecdotal evidence of the fascination with water among the autism community. Researchers and people with autism alike have long speculated on water’s attraction for those on the spectrum. Many believe that it is water’s soothing qualities, along with its tendency to reflect, shimmer, and produce patterns as it moves that draws people with autism to it.
Individuals with autism can wander or attempt to “escape” situations unpredictably. This is a very real danger for individuals who have an affinity for water or are attracted to bodies of water and water features, but don’t have the skills to swim or engage with water in a safe way.
This is one major reason it is important to help people with autism to have better water skills and be more comfortable around water.
Supervised training in and around water can literally save lives for children and adults on the autism spectrum who have a tendency to wander or seek escape from situations, especially if they have an affinity for water.
Conclusions: How Awareness and Training Can Help
Every person with autism is different, as will be their levels of comfort with water and their skill levels. Some people with autism may be hard to distinguish from a normal group but might perceive certain things differently, and others may need exclusive one on one supervision.
Understanding the Parent Perspective and Learning Common Obstacles Swimmers with Autism Might Experience is Crucial.
The combination of the insights from the parents and the training on common obstacles and strategies will give lifeguards or other personnel proper awareness and practices for supervising individuals on the autism spectrum as well as communicating with parents or care givers of that individual
It is important to understand that skills and expectations will vary significantly depending on the person and the family. People with autism can sometimes react differently than other people would to new situations, so it is important to make sure that they are able to experience new situations with safety and supervision first.
Gleeson, E. (2016, September 23). ASD and Drowning. Retrieved
December 20, 2017, from https://www.autismspectrum.org.au/sites/default/files/Factsheet_What%20is%20autism_20170306_1.pdf
Kumar, S., Mortimer, R., & Privopoulos, M. (2014). The
effectiveness of hydrotherapy in the treatment of social and behavioral aspects
of children with autism spectrum disorders: a systematic review. Journal of Multidisciplinary Healthcare, 93. doi:10.2147/jmdh.s55345