Summer is in full swing, and with COVID vaccination numbers increasing and pandemic restrictions lifted, many families are eagerly getting out to enjoy some time at the pool. But whether it is a public facility in your community or a backyard private pool, water safety should always be central. For those of us with young autistic children, how can we provide the extra layer of protection to prevent an unlikely accident near or around water?
We asked the adaptive swim education professionals at Swim Angelfish for some tips to help families with kids on the spectrum form some routines to help promote pool safety so everyone can have a great time in the water.
- Make an “ask before entering” rule for ALL water. Establish the expectation that your child needs to ask before they get into the bathtub at home, and do the same thing when you are about to swim. Creating the routine of asking will allow a ritual that may prevent your child from running to the water without permission.
- Create a simple poolside routine before entering the pool. This may give you a few extra minutes in the unlikely event that your child speeds past you to the pool deck. Make it a fun game like, “Clap your hands, touch your toes, sit down, kick your feet.” Making some kind of routine your child can remember and follow will help slow them down and promote good listening.
- Familiarize your swimmer with the rescue tube. You may show pictures or videos of it to your child at home ahead of time. You can also borrow the actual rescue tube for 15 minutes at the pool so your child can feel it, hold it, squeeze it, and understand that if they see it, they must HOLD ON. It is even better if you can also practice with it in the pool. You might throw it and say “TAKE IT and HOLD ON” while you pull them to the side of the pool. They will be more prepared in the event of an emergency if they have practiced what to do.
- Show your swimmer the shallow and deep parts of the pool. Teach them that in the deep, “We just keep swimming,” because the water holds us up and in the shallow part of the pool, “We can stand.” Using colorful sinking animals or toys on the bottom of the shallow end and saying “Find your feet!” can help them see the difference.
- Be cautious with floatation devices of any kind. Use of lifejackets or flotations no matter their rating is no substitute for careful supervision. If you use them, create safe practices about how to use them and when your child is allowed to take them off.
Here’s a handy infographic to save and share!
Swim Angelfish is an adaptive swim education and training organization. They have 5 free online videos for coaches, parents, swim instructors, and lifeguards. They also provide training for aquatic-center swim instructors to work with children with special needs.