The Importance of Water Safety Skills for Children with Autism


Indiana is a state filled with many great outdoor resources, including an abundance of rivers, lakes, and ponds. However, these bodies of water pose a serious risk to individuals on the autism spectrum, who are often prone to wandering behaviors and lack water safety awareness. In fact, drowning is the number one cause of death for children and adolescents on the autism spectrum, accounting for 91 percent of deaths for children 14 years and under with autism.

As the number of retention ponds and other bodies of water continues to increase in close proximity to homes and community areas, the drowning rate for individuals on the autism spectrum continues to climb. The need for access to high quality special needs swim lessons tailored to meet the specific challenges participants may face in the water has never been higher.

The Applied Behavior Center for Autism offers Special Needs Swim Lessons that teach lifesaving water safety skills to individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities. Our program offers quality, one-on-one lessons that combine the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and water safety practices.

Each swim lesson is taught by one of our Swim Instructors, all of whom are trained Behavior Technicians. Through the collaboration of our Program Manager, Swim Instructors, and parents, an individualized swim lesson program is created for each participant. These programs primarily concentrate on water safety and water awareness goals that provide participants with the necessary knowledge and skills to prevent dangerous situations in and around the water, as well as the lifesaving skills needed to navigate crisis situations in the water.

Examples of swim lesson targets include blowing bubbles, using a flotation device, independently floating on back, swimming from the middle of the pool to the wall, recognizing when and where it is safe to swim, waiting by the water until it is safe to enter, and recognizing changing depth in the pool.

The benefits of one-on-one, specialized swim lessons for individuals on the autism spectrum can be not just life-changing, but life-saving. With summer just around the corner, give your child the skills they need to stay safe. See you in the water!

Emily Hollinberger, RBT
Swim Program Manager

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