Hopebridge Shares Water Safety Tips for Children with Autism

How to Help Autistic Children Stay Safe in and Around the Pool, Lakes and Oceans

INDIANAPOLIS, Aug. 02, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- As hot summer days continue, Hopebridge Autism Therapy Centers urges parents and caregivers to remember that water safety should be forgotten, and instead aims to support families with crucial life-saving tips.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drowning is a leading cause of death in children. Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have an even greater risk around the water than their neurotypical peers, mainly due to some of the challenges associated with ASD. For instance, elopement, difficulties following directions, communication challenges, and limited situational awareness can all increase the concern. Others have an affinity to bodies of water and may feel the need to touch the water for a calming effect.

From lake houses and beach vacations, to long days splashing around a kiddie pool, there are preventative ways to keep children protected in the water, but water safety - as opposed to solely swim safety - is critical all year long. Drowning can happen quickly, quietly and anywhere there is water. In many cases, these tragedies occur at unexpected times when a family does not intend to go swimming.

Water safety not only teaches fundamental skills to prevent an incident of drowning, but it also encourages independence in the water. This independence can help children with autism feel comfortable swimming and playing everywhere from a pool, to the bathtub, to the backyard, all while giving parents a little more peace of mind.

Autism therapy programs that include applied behavior analysis (ABA therapy) including Hopebridge’s interdisciplinary model, can lay the groundwork for water safety or support children and families who are already working on many of the practices. For example, ABA therapy skills like walking with an adult, understanding safety directives and transitioning away from a fun activity can all transfer to water safety settings. Hopebridge centers also often incorporate water play into their programs during the summer. These sessions may include a small, shallow kiddie pool that is not deep enough for children to swim, but offers fun opportunities to teach safe water play.

Elopement is a big concern for many families in general, but can be especially dangerous for children who may wander near bodies of water. ABA therapy and other complementary therapies like speech therapy can be effective for those who struggle with elopement. Understanding how to add safety elements to the home and how to best work with first responders in case of emergency can add layers of protection that support water safety education.

To provide advice for parents whose children may come into contact with pools, oceans, canals and other bodies of water year-round, Hopebridge created a set of extra tips from Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA), as well as other clinicians on staff who have received lifeguard training.

  1. Expose children with autism to water at a young age.
    Introducing kids to water early in life increases their comfort and confidence around it, especially for those who may be nervous. Before getting in the pool or visiting somewhere near the water, caregivers should prepare for the outing by using visuals to explain the rules and emphasize the dangers associated with water. Engaging in safe water play in the bathtub or a kiddie pool at home can help put the rules into practice.

  2. Invest in swim lessons.
    There are rudimentary skills that are important for all children to have in order to ensure safe independence in the water. These basic survival skills include the ability to roll over and float on their backs, swimming to a pool’s edge, and exiting a pool. Parents interested in having children take swim lessons can reach out to their community recreation center or local drowning prevention organizations, which may offer special programs or scholarships for children with autism at all ages.

  3. Ensure proper supervision in and around the water.
    No matter what setting a child is swimming or wading in – even if it’s a kiddie pool or a bathtub – proper supervision is key. Adult supervision at all times is imperative, but a parent or another caregiver in the water is ideal because they not only have a better grasp of their child’s swimming skills, but are also able to quickly assist their child within an arm’s reach. It doesn’t stop at the pool. Supervision out of the water is just as important as supervision in the water. Monitoring and encouraging safe play anywhere near the water is the key prevention to drowning and potentially life-threatening injuries.

  4. Be patient with children.
    New or uncomfortable experiences can be challenging for children. Some kids are not used to the colder water temperatures, might not be comfortable with splashing, or could be overwhelmed depending on whether the environment is crowded or noisy. Sensory sensitivities and anxiety can increase the risk for wandering and lower children’s caution around the water, so caregivers should give them the space and time they need while aso never letting them out of their sight.

  5. Be prepared to take breaks.
    It can be helpful to take breaks so kids can remain strong swimmers and do not get too worn out while at the pool or beach. Plus, it can help to prepare for breaks and other transitions in advance, since most open swim times include a rest period. Parents should check with the pool staff on these details to plan the day and help remind children when a break is coming up.

  6. Secure bodies of water when not in use.
    Knowing how to swim and having adults near the pool is important, but water safety doesn’t stop there. Caregivers should not allow children to gain unsupervised access to water by adding layers of protection with pool gates, locked doors and/or alarms. For instance, if you are visiting another family’s home and there is a pool or pond in the backyard, caregivers should not assume everything is safe, even if they plan to stay inside. Adults should make sure doors are locked and keep eyes on children to make sure they do not wander to the backyard.

  7. Don’t hesitate to ask questions.
    Families can call the community pool if they have any questions or concerns. Many should be able to provide extra information to help plan an outing. For instance, some families of individuals with autism prefer to visit during less busy times, when it can be easier to focus on their children, safety and fun.

  8. Have fun!
    When it comes to being safe in the water, parents should remember to have fun with their children! Lifeguards have shared that the families who were the safest were often those that played together.

In addition to ensuring safety around the water, implementing these tips can help children build courage, trust, strength, balance, communication and independence, plus provide new opportunities for play and relaxation.

To learn about more safety tips for children with autism, visit hopebridge.com/blog.

As one of the largest autism therapy providers in the nation, Hopebridge serves children and families through its interdisciplinary, pediatric therapy options that include ABA, occupational therapy, speech therapy and feeding therapy. To learn more about what Hopebridge offers and to schedule autism testing or a therapy evaluation at one of more than 100 centers around the country, fill out the form at hopebridge.com/contact


About Hopebridge

Hopebridge was founded in 2005 to serve the growing need for autism treatment services and to improve the lives of affected children and families. Hopebridge is committed to providing personalized outpatient ABA, occupational, speech and feeding therapies for children touched by autism spectrum disorder and behavioral, physical, social, communication and sensory challenges. Hopebridge provides a trusted place where they can receive the care, support and hope they deserve.

More than a decade later, Hopebridge continues to open state-of-the-art autism therapy centers in new communities to reach patients and families who need services. Headquartered in Indianapolis, Hopebridge operates over 100 centers in the following twelve states: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Ohio and Tennessee.


Hopebridge Autism Therapy Centers' Water Safety Tips

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