Scuba Diving and Autism Part 3: Reduce Danger and Learn New Skills

Learning Water Skills Can Help Reduce the Danger of Water

It is widely known that drowning is a major concern for children with autism, which sometimes leads parents to avoid water altogether.

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”.

It is usually easier for a parent or someone other than the person with autism to recognize these signs and to act on them before it is too late. While children can and should be trained themselves on how to try and recognize these signs and take steps for prevention of sensory overload, this is usually a lifelong process of continual refinement (and hopefully improvement).

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.

Why not Just Keep Children with Autism Away from Water?

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.

Teaching Water Skills Increases Safety and Confidence

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 instruction.

Talking with Parents of a Child with Autism is Crucial

The parents of a child with autism will be an important resource to figure out the current capabilities of that child, the goals for working with the child, and any specific sensitivities or things to be aware of while working with them.

The combination of the insights from the parents and the training from IBCCES will give divers or other personnel proper awareness and practices for working with individuals on the autism spectrum.

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.

Progress is all relative to the starting point, and some like Chris O’Shea’s son, may make very significant progress, but then be derailed by something like a sting by a jellyfish or the potential for ghosts in a shipwreck.

Parents of a child with autism will typically understand that surprises like a jellyfish sting might become bigger setbacks, but that is all a part of the process. For many parents, it is important to make the effort to safely push and expand boundaries and achieve both new comfort levels and new skills.

Over time, this leads to the child being able to interact with the greater world in entirely different ways, even if it happens a little bit at a time.

Conclusions: How Scuba Diving Can Help

For many children on the autism spectrum, being in water can help calm them and put them in a different mental state.

For example, Chris O’Shea’s son has wanted to scuba dive since he was 3, and while his certification was derailed by a jellyfish sting and the possibility of ghosts, they are excited to try again next year. Chris and his family saw significant progress in just one trip, and having certified instructors that truly understood their needs made all the difference.

They went from him not feeling comfortable enough to put on a snorkel mask, to being on a catamaran trip and completing three snorkeling sessions. After that they successfully completed the ‘Bubbles’ Intro to Scuba course!

Scuba diving and other water activities are a great fit for many people on the autism spectrum. It gives them a chance to get more comfortable with water while under qualified professional supervision, and to learn a new skill that can be exhilarating, challenging and soothing all at the same time.

“We had some concerns about how he might react to all the requirements, but (with Ryan’s instruction) he took to it rapidly. He completed all the required pre-checks and finished the session swimming multiple laps of the French pool completely under water. This was huge step forward for Sebastian; he has wanted to scuba since he was three. We have tried Sebastian in ‘special needs’ programs at the local YMCA and never had any success. The reality is that Beaches provides highly experienced staff who can actually work with special needs children who actually care about their success. This has never been our experience with any other program.” -Chris O’Shea

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