Last week, the American Lifeguard Association announced a nationwide lifeguard shortage. The shortage has necessitated the closing of one-third to one-half of all swimming pools across the country. Though most beaches will remain open, many will be unguarded and swimmers will be advised to “swim at your own risk.”
In other words, water safety precautions will be even more important than ever – especially for individuals with autism who are prone to wandering and attracted to water. Tragically, drowning is one of the leading causes of death in individuals with autism.
To ensure a safe and happy summer, we’ve put together an updated list of water safety suggestions.
1. Provide swimming lessons from a young age
Help your child to become a competent swimmer by signing them up for swim lessons as early as possible. (Note: In the past couple of years, swim lessons have been hard to come by due to pandemic closures. Now that many people are fully vaccinated, swimming lessons should resume in most places.)
2. Use the buddy system
No one should ever swim alone. This is especially true when there isn’t a lifeguard on duty. If you’re not in the pool or ocean with your child, make sure a friend, sibling or preferably another adult swims with them.
3. Talk about water safety
Even strong swimmers can get into trouble in the water. “Be honest with your child about why they must wear a life vest. Explain why they should never swim when you aren’t with them. Talk to them about the importance of avoiding deep or murky water,” says the YMCA. Also make sure your child understands the dangers of diving in shallow water.
4. Wear a life jacket
“Young or inexperienced swimmers should wear a Coast Guard-certified life jacket around water,” the YMCA advises. Other products such as water wings, noodles, etc. are no substitute for the real thing. Likewise, Coast Guard-certified life jackets are not a substitute for watching your child in the water. Have your child wear a life jacket and keep a constant eye on the pool to keep your child safe.
5. Use social stories to teach water safety
Many children with autism respond well to social stories. According to Autism Parenting Magazine, a social story is a narrative made to illustrate certain situations and problems and how people deal with them. They help children with autism understand social norms and learn how to communicate with others appropriately.” You can create your own social story about water safety or download this one from Positively Autism.
6. Keep pools fenced and gated
If you have a swimming pool on your property, be sure to install a fence and keep gates or doors that lead to the pool locked when not in use.
7. Don’t be distracted
Not even for a second. Don’t walk away, glance at your phone, or hold a conversation while your child is in the pool or ocean. And don’t let little ones or weak swimmers swim alone. According to safekids.org, “Young children can drown in as little as one inch of water, so it’s important to keep them within an arm’s reach of an adult.”
8. Avoid swimming near pool drains
Many drownings occur when children’s hair or bathing suits get caught in an uncovered pool drain. Teach your child to stay away from them.
9. Take CPR training
Make sure you’re prepared in an emergency by receiving training in CPR. Check out your local Red Cross or YMCA or a local hospital to find training programs.