Becoming Water Safe

Posted on: July 8th, 2015 by SAAAC No Comments


child running towards water

How to Help a Child with Autism Who Wander Become “Water Safe”

Fifty percent of children with autism have a tendency to wander. And as one autism expert posits, the other fifty percent “just haven’t wandered yet.” Wandering is a huge worry for this population and undeniably puts people with autism in harm’s way. After all, it is a major reason why drowning is  one of the leading causes of death for children with autism.

Of course, while no child can ever be drown-proof, there are steps parents can take to make children with autism safer around water, especially in cases where they’ve wandered. Here are a few tips:

Get them in swimming lessons:

Many children with autism are drawn to water so when they do wander, pools, lakes, ponds, and other bodies of water can be especially fascinating for them. One of the best lines of defense for these children is knowing how to swim. For parents who are interested in signing their child up for swimming lessons, this  information-packed piece on the benefits of aquatic therapy for children with autism provides great advice on how to find a program in your area that caters to children with special needs. It also explains what to look for in these programs. For example, are the pools accessible? What is the student to teacher ratio?

Set rules for how to behave around water:

As this article on water safety from explains, children on the autism spectrum usually respond well to rules. Be sure to give your child clear rules on what they should do if they find themselves near water and you aren’t there. For example, the article recommends using “Social Stories” to explain the proper behaviors. So, if you have a rule about not going in the water when an adult isn’t present, you would then give them a replacement behavior—e.g., to find an adult who can take them in.

Make sure pool gate locks are out of reach:

Pool fences and gates are an excellent way to prevent all children from getting near a pool when an adult isn’t present. In order for the fence and gate to be as useful as possible, it should meet the requirements laid out by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission in “Safety Barrier Guidelines for Residential Pools: Preventing Child Drownings.” For example, make sure gates are self-latching and that the latches are out of a child’s reach. Of course, older children may be able to figure out how to get the gate open by standing on a nearby object or piece of furniture. So, be sure the pool area is clear of any items that could be easily moved into place and used to get the gate open.

Inform neighbors:

Securing your own home and pool (if you have one) is only half the battle. The pools, ponds, and other bodies of water around your neighborhood are just as dangerous for a wandering child. recommends that you let your neighbors know that your child has autism and has a tendency to wander. Make sure they know that if they see the child walking alone around the neighborhood then he/she has probably wandered off. Ask them to contact you immediately if they do see your child, and if it’s okay, if you contact them when/if your child elopes.

When a child wanders, the stress and fear for parents is unimaginable. If your child knows how to swim, has been educated about how to be safe around the water, and you and your neighbors have taken precautions to keep them away from the water, you’ll have a little more peace of mind during those difficult times.


Vee Cecil is a wellness coach, personal trainer, and bootcamp instructor. She is passionate about studying and sharing her findings in wellness through her recently-launched blog. She lives in Kentucky with her family.