Summer Safety Tips for Children with Autism and Their Family

By: Veronica Castro

Summer is the best time to go outside and enjoy the beauty that Florida offers. For children on the autism spectrum and their families it can be a stressful time.  In order to make the most of your summer fun, here are some positive safety tips that children and families can use.

Water Safety

Why is water safety so important for our families in Florida?  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, drowning is the second leading cause of accidental injury-related death among children ages 1-4.  One in five people who die from drowning are children 14 and younger.  50 % of children who survive from drowning will require hospitalization or transfer for further care. According to the American Red Cross, it takes as little as two inches of water and less than 20 seconds for a child to drown.

Children with autism are 5 to 14 times more likely to drown than children without autism and boys are at a higher risk than girls.  Children who wander, or elope from a safe place, are at higher risk of drowning.  In 2009, 2010, and 2011, 91% of accidental drowning deaths in the U.S. were reported to have been children with autism ages 14 and younger.

Let’s work together to make summer and water safety fun for children and their families by following some basic steps:

  1. It’s a great time to learn how to swim.  Swim lessons reduce the risk of drowning among children aged 1 to 4.  Throughout Palm Beach County, children with autism and related disabilities can receive free swim lessons. There are multiple programs that offer free and scholarship programs to teach all children how to swim.  
  2. Pool safety can be stress-free fun for all. Making sure that pool fencing and guards are properly installed is key. The best protection is a four-sided isolation fence (separating the pool area from the house and yard).  This kind of fencing reduces a child’s risk pf drowning by 83% compared to three-sided property-line fencing.
  3. Adult supervision makes all the difference. Siblings and other children should never provide supervision, even for children who know how to swim.  Adults should have a safety plan in place in the event that a child in their supervision needs assistance. Is there water safety equipment available and does someone know how to use it? Are there life guards available, if in a public area?  Call 911 for immediate assistance if a drowning incident occurs.
  4. Life Jackets save lives. Always have your children wear a life jacket approved by the U.S. Coast Guard while on boats, around open bodies of water or when participating in water sports. Make sure the life jacket fits tightly. Have kids make a "touchdown" signal by raising both arms straight up; if the life jacket hits a child's chin or ears, it may be too big or the straps may be too loose. Swimming aids such as water wings or noodles are fun toys for kids, but they should never be used in place of a U.S. Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device (PFD).
  5. Learn CPR, it makes a difference. CPR can save lives and improves outcomes for drowning victims.

Wandering Safety

Wandering was ranked among the most stressful autism related behavior by 58% of parents who’s children elope or wander.  If your child wanders or elopes there are additional safety strategies to assist you in making summer a more relaxed experience.  These are some simple steps:

  1. Secure your home using deadbolt locks, keep doors and windows locked
  2. Install an alarm or alert chimes on doors
  3. Use visual cues such as story boards or signs to serve as reminders
  4. Consider a personal tracking or GPS location transmitter
  5. Get an ID bracelet or necklace and tag personal items
  6. Create a family wandering safety plan
  7. Work with first responders through programs such as the Wallet Card Program

FAU CARD is here to support children and their families in making summer fun and safe.  CARD provides support and assistance with the goal of optimizing the potential of people with autism and related disabilities. For more information on any of the above or additional resources, please contact FAU CARD – 1-888-632-6395. Summer doesn’t have to be scary or high stress if you have the right tools.  

FAU CARD serves a five-county region including Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River and Okeechobee Counties, and is one of the seven regional centers across the state of Florida.  FAU CARD provides expert consultation, support, and training, at no charge, to families and professionals who have or are working with individuals with ASD.  Contact FAU CARD at 561-297-2055 or for more information.