Swimming Pools, part 1

Just as with more typical kids, some youngsters with autism love the water. Let’s take a look at some creative ideas and some serious factors related to autism and water. First and foremost, we must consider water safety.

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Whether in a swimming pool, lake, river, or even a kiddy pool, our first obligation to our friends with autism is water safety. Except in rare incidences, we simply must assume that a teen or adult with autism needs supervision around water.

No one should swim alone, of course, but sometimes individuals with autism, even those who are very bright and thoughtful, simply do not comprehend the concept of danger. While we should not make our friends fearful of water, we need to teach and enforce basic water safety. Warnings like “You’d better not do that or you could get hurt” or “If you go in the deep water, you might drown” have little meaning to many individuals with autism and will not deter potentially dangerous behavior.

Rather than showering our friends with dire warnings and constant nagging about water safety, it might work better to develop a “Water Safety Routine” that you follow every single time you go swimming, boating, or even wading in a stream that may have an unexpected drop-off or other unseen danger. Let’s take a look at a water safety routine one family developed for their 10-year-old with autism who is fearless and rather obsessed with water.
Step 1: The family decided against a pool in the yard since 24/7 supervision is impossible. They have also quietly contacted families in the neighborhood who do have pools, politely telling them of their son’s autism and his obsession with water, and requesting they fence the pools and keep the gates locked.
Step 2: Because swimming is their son’s primary interest, the family takes him swimming as often as possible.
Step 3: Family pool rules are strictly reinforced for this youngster. He is reminded before going swimming and upon arrival at the pool to “Stop, look, and listen.” “Stop” means to freeze on the side of the pool. “Look” means to look at his personalized life-guard and wait for a nod to get in the water. “Listen” means to stop and look if he hears a certain whistle sound, waiting to see what his personal lifeguard has to say, then to follow that instruction right away. If he breaks any of the rules, his swimming time is immediately over.

This safety routine, of course, will not work for everyone, but it is an example of a consistent procedure that, over time, helps a youngster anticipate the hard and fast rules so he can relax and enjoy swimming to his heart’s content.

In part 2 of our swimming pools podcast, we will look at some alternatives to public pools and some ideas for moderating a perseverative person’s obsession with water. Tune in tomorrow for Swimming Pools, Part 2.

And, don’t forget to click on the Toolkit tab on our website – http://FAQautism.com – to find some great resources to help us systematically address other challenges that arise as a result of autism.

NOTE TO READERS AND LISTENERS: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At FAQautism.com we are committed to providing free, practical, everyday tips for making life better for people with autism. Feel free to send me a confidential email at talk@FAQautism.com with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solution. And don’t forget to check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism. http://FAQautism.com

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