How do they drown? | Autism PDD


I think swimming lessons should be tried with all of our kids (well, all kids in general!). Yes, they may totally forget their skills if they are in a drowning situation - but they may not. You are increasing their odds of survival I think, if they at least have an idea what to do. I would search for swimming instructions that not only teach HOW to swim, but also WATER SAFETY. Or, ask the instructor to specifically teach that to your child.

Particularly for the kids who are higher-functioning, I think this will increase their chances of survival. In addition, the health benefits are great and it is a life-long skill that can help keep them fit.

I would love to see free or low-cost swim lessons available to all kids with autism - whether it be through grants, private funding or government funding. Let us hope that out of  these tragedies will come something positive - an increased awareness for everyone about autism and water safety issues.

Swimming is also such an excellent therapeutic activity.

There are tradeoffs in everything.  The stats kristy posted on the other thread are terrifying.


I know for my ds it is a lack of fear/ common sense/ impulsivity. He is
smart in many ways but when we go to the pool he will run up to the
deep end, jump in and sink like a stone. He knows he can't swim, he
knows that it is dangerous, he swallows water when he does it and threw
up last time he did it - but he does it anyway. No pool ever in our

Since we have 2 threads going on this topic, I'm reposting this here as well.

Both my kids are drawn to water.  This is one area where I don't see any difference between my ASD son and my NT son.  They are equally excited about any water (pool, lake, river, ocean) and behave the same way around it.

Some statistics:

Drowning is the second leading cause of injury-related death among children under the age of 15.  (source: CDC)

19% of drowning deaths involving children occur in public pools with certified lifeguards present.  (source: Drowning Prevention Foundation)

Children under 5 and adolescents between the ages of 15-24 have the highest drowing rates. (source: CDC)

Of all preschoolers who drown, 70 percent are in the care of one of both parents at the time of the drowning and 75% are missing from sight for 5 minutes or less.  (source:  Orange County CA Fire Authority)

Here is some interesting information from the National Center for Child Death Review Policy and Practice.

In the United States, 1,236 children (0-18) died from drowning in 2000. Males are at a much higher risk of drowning than girls: one study found that on average, three-quarters of all drowning victims are male. Toddlers, especially boys under age four, are at highest risk of drowning. Toddlers, though curious near water, are not able to comprehend the potential dangers. It is also believed that toddlers drown silently; not splashing or calling for help when they get into trouble in water. Children living in rural areas are also at higher risk because of their proximity to open bodies of water. Most child drownings occur when a supervising adult is distracted.

A study in the Journal of Pediatrics reported on the relationship between the child’s age and place of drowning. This study found that babies most often drown in bathtubs when left unattended, even for a few minutes. Toddler drowning most often occurs in swimming pools or backyard ponds. Most children who drown in pools were last seen inside the home or just outside of the home (not necessarily near the water) and had been out of sight of the caretaker for less than five minutes. Older children more often drown in open bodies of water (lakes, rivers, oceans, gravel pits).

Personal flotation devices (PFDs or life jackets) are very effective at preventing drowning for all ages, especially for children playing in or near pools and open bodies of water, regardless of whether the child is a good swimmer.

Major Risk Factors

Vigilance is the only cure for drowning; kids who are taught can only swim for so long anyway.  I think many ASD kids don't think of the dangers or even how they will get back out and some may not even understand they going the wrong direction.  We have many marshes and it would be terribly hard to swim in them. 

This might be a stupid question. I'm wondering how the 2 autistic children who drowned in the ponds drowned?
Is it that they did not know how to hold their breath under water or swim?
Or did they not realize that that is what they needed to do?
I'm just trying to figure out if swimming lessons for children with ASD is an adequate precaution against this? Or whether even with swimming lessons, it is a question of judgement? Wandering into a river with a current, etc...
I know perfectly good swimmers drown every year, including adults, and it does not take much water--but I'm just trying to figure out whether a push for swimming lessons tailored for children with ASD could somehow improve the odds against such a tragedy? It's just too sad.

I think if your child is able to, they should learn how to swim. However, 25% of children who drown had swimming lessons.  Most children will panic and forget their swimming skills if they fall into water. s_06.pdf

In addition to swimming lessons, I would also consider putting alarms on the windows and doors, fencing the yard, letting all my neighbors know about my child's autism, and make sure my local police/fire department knew what to do in the event of an emergency involving an autistic child.  If you know your child is prone to wandering, I would also put a tracking system on them.  It may sound like a lot, but after the recent tragedies I don't know if it would be enough.

I also put up a separate posting from Autism Speaks about what to do in an emergency - "Preparing for Autism Emergencies."


I have heard VERY good things about the Red Cross program -- if you can find one close.

We started at the Y and are staying with them for other reasons, but I ahve heard Red Cross' program is superior, from teachers trained by both.

I live in florida and both my girls are taking swiming lessons. The county pays for it. They took the classes last year and will this summer again. They really enjoy it and it does teach them basic survival skills.There was a news report not long ago in Florida, and if I am not mistaken it was the YMCA that offered this class.  IT IS NOT swimming lessons.  IT IS A SURVIVAL CLASS.  It teaches your children how to survive in water even when they do not know how to swim.  If I can find out more information I will.  It is offered for infants up.  They did a whole news report on it and said that it would be difficult for parents to teach their own children because they are teaching survival, not swimming.  They use techniques such as floating and treading water and how not to struggle against the water.  As a matter of fact they say the children in the beginning do not like the lesson at all.  But, after a few times even the children who are the most terrified of water learn to love the water and most importantly learn important survival techniques in case they are ever in a situation where they may need it.  I wil see if I can get more info on exactly what the class is called and who offers it.  It may only be local, but I will see what I can find out.[QUOTE=kristys]

It is also believed that toddlers drown silently; not splashing or calling for help when they get into trouble in water. [/QUOTE]

This bears repeating.  When a child falls into the water, he usually does not cry out or splash around.  It is completely silent.   Not like on TV at all, when you see all of the drama and cries for help in a drowning person.  I have seen a child fall into a pool, right next to a group of chatting parents.  It was silent.  Thankfully, her mom saw her floating and mom jumped in and saved her.


[QUOTE=rubyruby]There was a news report not long ago in Florida, and if I am not mistaken it was the YMCA that offered this class.  IT IS NOT swimming lessons.  IT IS A SURVIVAL CLASS.  It teaches your children how to survive in water even when they do not know how to swim.  [/QUOTE]

Interesting as my kids have Y lessons, and we were just talking about the fact that they do NOT teach treading water or deadman's float FIRST, and wondering why not ...

And I will attest to the silence of a toddler drowning: when T jumped in, she never made it to the surface to splash or yelp!  So scary.

Most swimming programs follow the red cross program.  My kids are currently working on red cross level 2.  I expect (hope) that by the end of lessons this summer they will pass the 2 test and start on level 3.  They swam alot this winter and already are demonstrating some of the level 3 skills, such as swimming underwater to get stuff off the bottom and jumping into deep water and swimming to the side.

Many swim programs divide the 7 levels up further.  I know at the boys' camp there are 12 levels, that map to the red cross levels.  For example, level 1 is divided into 1a and 1b, 2 is 2a and 2b.  My kids were in 2b at the end of camp last summer.

Here is the info on the 7 levels:

I followed this program growing up, and I think I was in 8th grade when I passed the level 7 test.