How To Protect Autistic Children From Drowning

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It may be that you have felt deeply troubled on how to protect autistic children from drowning.  Okay, so let’s just put it right out there because this is alarming and shocking and you and your child do NOT want to become a victim.  There is heightened concerns during summer months because of time around pools and lakes, but water sources like little backyard kiddie pools, raised pools, even bathtubs, can be a place where drowning occurs.  And children who wander are at risk in a big way!!!

Of the annual childhood drowning deaths between 2009 and 2011, 91% of these children were autistic!

As beautiful as water is...without training for our young ones it poses a risk to their welfare.

As beautiful as water is…without training for our young ones water can pose a risk to their welfare.

This statistic absolutely frightens me.  With a growing trend, as documented by the CDC (Center for Disease Control in the United States), that 1 in 88 children are diagnosed as being autistic, I’m sure you agree we must be on top of this critically important proactive investment in our child’s safety.  Life is crazy busy, isn’t it? So we don’t want to have the sorrow of a tragic water accident.  Right?

What Really Are The Facts?

Autism presents differently in each and every child. We know that there is an entire spectrum of autistic behaviors in children. Perhaps your family is juggling another of the special needs.  Whatever you find yourself managing for your child, it is apparent that there is a significant risk if we haven’t hammered down water safety skills.  The CDC has said “drownings are the leading cause of injury death for young children ages 1 to 4, and three children die every day as a result of drowning.” (

Obviously, with such a high-risk factor for dying in a water accident, our vigilance simply cannot wane.  The first line of defense around water is adult supervision, then we should layer in the protections with pool fences, locks and alarms on doors that lead to a water source and of course swimming or water survival skills, even for infants!

desert beige fence baby at pool fence automatic pool cover 2

Parent and caretaker ‘eyes on’ a child near water is truly the first line of defense.  The next layer of protection needs to be controlling their access to a pool and other water sources, like perhaps a pond in your neighborhood.  When it comes to pools fences and gates and pool covers all fit the bill for controlling access.

In my researching the ability to prevent access to a pool I discovered some great resources.  The above images are from a company based in Clearwater Florida in the United States called PoolGuardUSA.   Here is a link to their website:   I recommend taking the time to listen to the woman who talks on their home page.  She makes some excellent points as to why their company is a good choice.  I was impressed by the automatic gate closure features.  I also appreciated learning about the company’s mission, to keep kids safe around pools, the quality of the materials they use, and the manufacturing certifications they have received, like the ASTM certification.  I think we all agree that quality is important when purchasing something we need to last and that functions well to serve our needs.  Yes there are other companies out there to purchase from but I felt this was a good place to start that search and if I had a pool, they would have received a call from me, that is for sure.

Resources – Resources – Resources

There are a number of resources that will underpin your efforts.  Whether your child is struggling with global delays, or confronted with one of the many chromosome disorders, or perhaps facing the challenges of a learning disorder the three Ps are paramount, PREVENTION – PLANNING – PREPARATION.  With the alarming statistics we have reviewed I’m sure you must feel as I do, that preventing drowning is critically important and an urgent need!

Sadly these water tragedies are often related to a very autistic characteristic, that of wandering away from home or trusted caretakers.  It has been said that an autistic person wanders because they are “on a mission”.  They want to go play with that dog, get to that pond or pool, or to follow that fire engine that they so love.  ‘Wandering’ is also called ‘elopement’.  This is a subject that deserves an entire post of its own and will be the subject of my next composition here.  So check back for more information addressing the wandering issue.

The subject of this post is ‘how to protect autistic children from drowning’. 

Here are resources to help you be informed and to buoy up your efforts so you never have to experience what these mothers and families have gone through.

What Has Happened To Others?

There are sadly all too many stories.  This family has chosen to share theirs in the hopes other drowning deaths can be prevented.

Even an Infant Can and SHOULD Learn to Self-Rescue.

One of the most remarkable resources I have found isn’t new.  Infant Swimming Resource is an organization that started offering this specialized training over 49 years ago. There are 800 young children that have taken the lessons who have performed a ‘self-rescue’ and, therefore, did not die.  Please consider carefully what this organization has been accomplishing.

ISR Self-Rescue™ Swim-Float-Swim Sequence from Infant Swimming Resource on Vimeo.

Here is a quote from their web page. “The ISR Self-Rescue® instruction our students receive today is the product of over 45 years of research and achieves unparalleled results.”

Emily’s Story from Infant Swimming Resource on Vimeo.

So, as you can see from this video on Emily, there is a very powerful thing that you can do even for a very young 6-month-old child.  Very young children can be taught a ‘self-rescue’ technique that can mean precious minutes for rescue rather than precious minutes fatally lost.

Another organization is  They teach the same roll over technique that teaches an infant to be able to go from face down in the water to face up so they can breathe.

It CAN Be Done

I am working to put aside the resources for one of these classes.  These are one-on-one lessons that I believe are the only way my daughter will benefit from water safety training.  Do not despair if your personal resources are such that you cannot afford this training.  There are organizations that are striving to provide scholarships.  And….

…lessons are also being provided by other organizations such as the YMCA and the Red Cross.

One More Thing to Think About

Emergencies are disorienting for a special needs person.  From what I have read, some special needs autistic kids can actually hide from emergency responders.  This too is a subject for another blog post.  But for now as an example of the work and training that is being done, you may want to check out what a couple of firefighters in Tucson Arizona in the United States are doing.

Here is what they have to say:   “We are but humble firefighters, some whose families have children on the ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), that have decided to rise to the challenge of doing everything possible to empower and equip others to the dangers associated with Autism, most importantly wandering.  Because we respond day after day to emergency situations, and because some of our children are challenged by the Autism Spectrum, we found a purpose in attempting to prevent needless emergencies within the autism community.”


Justin Lewis, one of the faces behind Firefighters vs Autism.

Tapping Into Resources Is Smart Special Needs Parenting

There are some good information pages regarding ‘wandering’ and drowning in their website “”. You will appreciate the information they are providing like the “Puzzle Alert” which is designed to give information to first responders when they respond to an emergency at your home.  Giving them a ‘heads up’ that an autistic child or adult is residing there will help them more appropriately do their search or render aide. Why not go check out what Justin Lewis and his fellow fire-fighters are doing.

You Know What Your Child Needs and What You Can Do

In my daughter’s little world she had a significant physical challenges because of her proprioceptive disorder.  It made her chaotic in the water, flailing and writhing about as though she was injured.  Even still she loves to be in the pool.  When I first started working with her in the pool her language delays stymied communication.  With no sense of danger, I had watched her step right into a pool on a cold March morning with me one step behind her to pull her to safety. She doesn’t get that you can’t breathe water, it is a concept she hasn’t been able to get into her head.  It takes months and months of repetition before a new skill anchors, before she ever learns something.  It took 9 months for her to just begin to know colors and that was with daily references in a variety of ways.  My water skills and knowledge wasn’t making any difference in shortening her learning curve, either.

I hope that by ‘bubbling this to the surface’ it will prevent you and your family from ever experiencing a drowning tragedy. Please, if you have already used one of these resources then drop me a line about your experience with them.

And if you have had a scare involving your child and water, we all can learn from that too, if you are willing to share such tender feelings with us.

Like light at the end of a tunnel, light streaming through a cloud or sparkling over the surface of water, we can establish safe water environments.

Like light at the end of a tunnel, light streaming through a cloud, or sparkling over the surface of water, we can establish safe water practices for our special needs loved ones!

Thanks for taking time to drop by and contribute here at Special Needs Advocate Power.  Contact me if you have any questions:

Drop Us a Comment and Share What Your Experience Has Been with this important subject of childhood drowning.

Drop Us a Comment and Share What Your Experience Has Been with this important subject of childhood drowning.

4 Responses to “How To Protect Autistic Children From Drowning

  • Hi Linda – Thanks for a really informative post. Without wanting to sound callous people who live in the “normal” world have no idea what these children go trough. Drowning is a terrible way to go.
    Thanks for sharing the information and opening my eyes.

    • Linda

      Hello Mark,

      I very much appreciate the time you have taken to read and to respond to my post. You are SO very correct that people who live in the “normal” world have no idea. It very hard to fathom sometimes and if it were not for the learning curve I have been in getting to know my granddaughter and her needs and how she is then in the world, well, I’d be among those folks. This is precisely why I am writing here. To shorten the learning curve for others who may find themselves in shoes like mine and to help bring more balance into all of our lives.

      Again, thank you very much for your comment and for letting me know there was something in my post that even had the affect of “opening” you eyes. You are most kind.


  • what a beautiful service you are offering… Thank You

    • Linda

      Thank you, Steve. I have found its best to take one day at a time, because each day is enough for its own anxiety and when I write something its been something I have learned and wanted to share with others.


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