Water Safety


It is fairly well known that kids with autism are drawn to water. This is likely due to the supreme sensory stimuli that water presents. It’s visually, tactilely, auditorily, and even olfactory (smell) stimulating. It gives everyone a visual experience: from the great waves of an ocean, to the stillness of a peaceful lake. A backyard or community pool gives off shimmers of light in a concrete environment and the squiggly and colorful lines at the bottom of the pool provide an interesting experience for any child. The sounds of flowing water or crashing ocean waves provides a sense of rhythm in a linguistically chaotic world. The way that water feels on the body is like nothing else on earth. The pressure on every inch of our skin and feeling of weightlessness easily brings on a sense of calm and tranquility to a body under stress. AND, how cool is it that when something is dropped into water, an explosion occurs as ripples (or echoes) travel well beyond the point of contact???


Drowning is the number ONE reason for death of children with autism spectrum disorder. This statistic has remained the same for decades and something MUST be done.

Watch this video created by a person with autism to learn more: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j0WDcPCKRm4


  • Florida has the highest number of drownings in the United States.
  • In 2018 (up until Dec 1), there were 88 drowning deaths of children age 3 and younger in Florida. Nearly 10% were identified as children with ASD, when only 2% of all children have an ASD
  • Of the 88 fatal drownings, most were a result of the child wandering, eloping, or missing from a caregiver – all factors that impact autism every day.
  • According to the Dept of Health and CDC, most children who drown are between ages 1 and 4 (76% in 2018 are children 3 and under) The CDC average age of ASD diagnosis is age 4.5. Strong likelihood that the number of young children who drown are children who would have been later diagnosed with an ASD since kids with autism have a tendency to elope or wander, have little regard for safety and are naturally attracted to the water.
  • Children with an ASD are 160 times more likely to experience nonfatal and fatal drowning than their neurotypical peers.
  • 50% of children with autism wander – nearly all gravitate towards water.
  • African-American children between the ages of 5 and 19 are 6 times more likely to drown in a pool than white children the same age.
  • 32% of parents of kids with ASD report that they have had a “close call” of drowning for their child.

Children must learn how to swim as early as possible to stay alive. Contact us to find out how you can help impact this devastating statistic.

How Can You Help Keep Your Children Safe?

Swim lessons are a must. Contact local pools, YMCAs, and CARD (Centers for Autism and Related Disabilities) for information on where to find swimming lessons in your area.

Start with sensory integration. Ease your child into a water experience, don’t rush it. Allow them to put their feet in from the side of the pool, hang out on the steps, gradually move into deeper waters while you spend countless hours in the pool yourself so that you can be part of the process to their comfort and success.

Seek out a pool that matches your child’s learning style. If your child is easily distracted by others, sign them up for a class during an off-time when there won’t be many other swimmers in the pool. When there are others in the pool, turn their body away from the others to reduce visual stimulation. None of us learn best when we’re distracted.

Engage before swimming lessons begin. Take your child for a tour of the pool where they’ll be taking lessons. This will give them a chance to get used to the sights, smells, and sounds that they’ll be experiencing as part of this process.

Create visuals of the steps to be expected in the pool, and instructions on swimming. Be sure to laminate these so that they can be brought into the water. Video modeling is a fabulous way to present an introduction to swimming. If you can’t find one, create one with your smartphone, using a sibling or friend as your “actor”.

Be consistent in the instruction. Review previously taught skills at every lesson to ensure maintenance.

Create water rules. Kids and adults with autism tend to like rules since they give them clearly defined boundaries and expectations. These can include:

  • NEVER swim without an adult with you
  • ALWAYS tell an adult where you are going
  • No diving
  • No swimming alone

Take steps to prevent wandering. Place alarms or chimes on doors, always be sure to lock access points around pools, and place “Stop” signs on all doors and windows leading to the outside.

Consider a locating device. Check with your local police department to find out which ones are active in your area.

Alert Your Neighbors. Spend time introducing your child to those who live in your neighborhood. Knowing your neighbors can help reduce the risks associated with wandering and reduce the need for emergency professionals.

Visit Local Authorities. Set up a visit to the police department during a NON-EMERGENCY time so that your child will get to meet those who serve and protect – AND give the officers the opportunity to learn about autism and ways that they can help prevent tragedy.

The Autism Society of Florida is working hard to ensure access of swimming lessons to ALL parents. To obtain more information about how you can engage, contact us at info@autismfl.com