Most parents are aware that swimming is a lifesaving skill that must be taught at an early age. Sadly, drowning remains the second leading cause of unintentional injury-related death for children between one and fourteen years of age, and children with intellectual challenges are at an even higher risk. As an alarming statistic, drowning is the number one leading cause of death of children with autism. Children with autism tend to have three characteristics, which when combined, can be very dangerous: a tendency to wander, no inherent sense of danger, and a fascination with water. We need to stress the importance of water safety to families of all children, through education, awareness, and training in order to come together as unified communities and prevent tragedies.
If children participate in formal swimming lessons by the age of four, the drowning rate is reduced by 88%, according to the case control study conducted by Dr. Ruth Brenner, lead author of the study from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, based in Bethesda, Maryland.
Yet swimming lessons alone are not enough; a multi-layered approach to reduce and prevent drowning is required, particularly for at-risk children. Parents need to be aware of the dangers and limit the exposure to potential hazards. Here are a few tips:
- Alarms should be installed to notify the family if a child has left the house
- Barriers around pools such as fences should be maintained at all times
- Parents and caregivers should be trained in CPR and basic lifesaving skills
- Neighbors with swimming pools should be notified that your child might wander
- Always check bodies of water first if your child has wandered away
For those with learning challenges, swimming lessons certainly offer a critical lifesaving skill. But beyond drowning prevention, the additional therapeutic and physical benefits of the aquatic environment are immeasurable.
Since ancient times, water has been regarded as highly therapeutic, and its benefits are known now to correlate to specific disabilities. The hydrostatic pressure of the water, for example, can aid a person with sensory difficulties. The water surrounds the body, adding gentle, consistent pressure, which helps create a calming effect to allow the student to focus. Natural water turbulence can also help a swimmer with sensory issues as the gentle rhythmical back and forth sway of the water can relax the student. The viscosity, or thickness, of the water may aid a student with stability, mobility, and balance issues such as cerebral palsy, or a neurological or muscular difficulty.
In addition, people who are limited by gravity on land can achieve independent movement in water with buoyancy. Water allows for three-dimensional movement, which helps train body sensation, body awareness, joint position, spatial awareness, and posture control.
Furthermore, since swimming is an ambidextrous activity, it is also attributed to balancing and integration of the two brain hemispheres and additionally adds to physiological brain growth.
For a parent with a child with special needs, it may be difficult to find recreational, physical, and meaningful activities that focus on the child’s ability rather than their disability. Swimming is an ideal activity because it can showcase the special ability or hidden talent of each student. Over the years, Aqua Pros has seen many special ability students achieve levels of success in the sport of swimming that no one else would have dreamed possible.
So, how could a parent find a suitable aquatic program for their child? For the past ten years, it has been the mission of Aqua Pros Swim School to provide specific training and resources to families and swimming instructors across the country and to connect each other. Aqua Pros has an established and still growing network of swim schools and instructors passionate about providing access and quality instruction for those with learning challenges. For a list of participating swim schools and instructors please visit: www.swimmingwithautism.com.