4 reasons why you should teach your Autistic child to swim

4 reasons why you should teach your child to swim
Drowning is the number one cause of death for children with Autism. Parents whose children have died from drowning probably regret that their child didn’t learn to swim. Not all Autistic children will learn how to swim with ease, and panic can set in when someone (Autistic or not) falls into water, so even knowing how to swim won’t save everyone. But, let’s not live with regret, let’s do our best to help our children learn to swim.

So, here are reasons why you should teach your Autistic child to swim:

  1. Autistic children LOVE water. They will do anything they can to get to the source; pond, bathtub, lake, swimming pool, open ditch, river, stream, or a water trough for horses or other animals.
    Know what’s around your home (you will find out more of why you need to know in the next point). Are there horses or animals that require a water trough? Does a neighbor have a pool, and is there a secure gate so your child can’t get in? Is there a pond nearby, maybe in someone’s front or side yard? Teaching your child to swim will help prevent drowning in case they go in search of water or fall into water while exploring with curiosity.
  2. When wandering a child may find a source of water and could drown if they don’t know how to swim. You can just about guarantee a child who has Autism won’t be content to simply stare at a pool of water, they’re going to want to PLAY. They see a playground when they see water.
    The National Autism Association says, “According to recent data, 49% of children have wandered away from safe environments, such as homes, schools, public places, and day camps.” Our son has wandered several times. You can read more about that here. He’s never gotten farther than our garage when he’s walked out of our house (one of the benefits of a small house and ears attuned to each movement our son makes).
    The National Autism Association lists these instances at a higher risk for a child to wander:
    – During warmer months
    – During holidays such as Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, Father’s   Day, Fourth of July,  Labor Day, and other warm-climate holidays
    – During family gatherings, other gatherings, or outdoor activities
    – Camping & hiking outings
    – Visits to non-home settings, such as a friend’s home or vacation setting
    – After a family moves to a new home
    – When adjustments have been made to a home to accommodate warmer weather, especially window screens, window fan units, A/C units and screen doors.
    – During classroom transitions from one classroom to another, or during other transitions.
    – During times of stress or when escalation triggers arise (typically the child/adult will bolt)We live just outside the city limits, and there’s a DEEP (like fifteen feet deep) open ditch at the end of our street. This is a recipe for disaster, and I can’t believe they haven’t piped it and filled it in yet. If a child goes wandering, any child (they don’t even have to have Autism), it could be extremely dangerous. I regret to say I haven’t made a phone call to the city yet, I’ll be doing that a little later. We have to be aware of what’s around our homes. If we know what the dangers are we may be more attentive to keeping safety precautions in place and IF, in the worst case scenario, our children escape, we know where to look.
    A child can either have the intent to find water when they wander, or in their wandering come upon water, both being equally dangerous and a good reason to teach your child to swim.
  3. Swimming provides sensory stimulation for sensory seekers, and may be helpful to those who avoid sensory.
    When Jeremiah swims he talks more! Really exciting for us. Well, when I say “talk” I mean more of a jabber, but lots of it, and you can tell he’s trying to make specific sounds. He loves it, his face lights up and a big smile adorns his face when he’s swimming. The happiest we ever see him is in a pool or lake.
    We think he enjoys it so much because of the sensory aspect. Take a float through a pool and you’ll get a little glimpse of how it feels, it’s relaxing. When the Autistic child goes under water, the whole world is shut out, no sounds, no light if their eyes are closed, and there’s the constant of the water surrounding their body.
    For the sensory seeker like Jeremiah, splashing, going under and coming back up, jumping off the board, or sitting next to water jets gives them an awesome sensory experience that is almost impossible to find elsewhere.
    In this video, you will see Jeremiah swimming. The first star of the video is his sister, Payton and her Grandpa (sorry I don’t have editing tools on my computer to cut the video), about 14 seconds in you will see Jeremiah and Justin. Jeremiah’s been in swim lessons, but really the teacher wasn’t that great, and didn’t really help to teach him, but did help him enjoy swimming. No one moved Jeremiah’s legs to teach him how to kick, nor did anyone move his arms, yet you can see that with Justin’s hand supporting his stomach, he can almost swim. 🙂 Jeremiah wasn’t taught to close his mouth and not breathe in under water, it came naturally, in fact I can only remember one time that he coughed up water. In the video you can see how much he loves swimming and jumping in. Jeremiah is nonverbal and doesn’t understand instructions that aren’t part of his everyday life. Jeremiah is almost 5.
  4. Swimming gets them out in public, in a different environment. As the parent of an Autistic child, there are many times we don’t want to go out to dinner, the mall, the carnival, the park, on vacation. It can be work, and we never know what the outcome will be. We can tend to avoid public places, and this doesn’t help our Autistic kids. (I definitely think taking our children into public needs to be done by considering their preferences, and not forcing them to always follow our agenda.)
    For our family, there are many outings that have failed, but a trip to the pool never has. This gets Jeremiah around other people, we try different pools so this exposes him to different environments, and we have to work as a family which creates unity for us all. There’s nothing like a family outing with high-needs Autism.

There are so many benefits to teaching your child to swim, and making swimming a regular part of your life. We want our children to be able to swim, but we also want our children to enjoy life, and if they enjoy swimming, go take a dip in a pool, I don’t think you’ll be sorry.

Please pass this on to parents of children with Autism, to help prevent drowning deaths.

Here’s a post on how to help your Autistic child learn to swim. I’ve provided a great video there from MarTar swim school that gives some great ideas of what to do with your child in the pool.

Has your Autistic child learned to swim? Do they seem drawn to water? What steps can you take to help your child learn to swim if they don’t know how?

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