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Autism and Water Safety

Autism is the fastest growing children’s disability in America.  Much has been reported about Autism and the spectrum of Autism Disorders (ASD) recently in the news but many of us still don’t understand that much about it unless we are directly affected.  With current statistics, it is likely that you either know someone directly who is on the ASD spectrum or you have a neighbor who is.  For this reason, we should all be aware of the unique risk these children face in regards to open water.

  • Autistic children are far more likely to be drawn to water than most children, and most children are already fascinated by water!  This includes lakes, ponds, stream, fountains… just about any source of water.

  • It is known that drowning is one of the leading causes of death in Autistic children nationwide.

  • Autistic children are generally unaware or not understanding of dangers around them.  This can include water depth, water temperature, current, steep slopes, slippery slopes, and confined spaces (culverts and drains).

As most neighborhoods have retention ponds, spillways, and fountains, there are a host of dangers for many of these children.  Take the following into consideration in your neighborhood:

  • Never allow any unattended child to play in or around water.

  • If you see a child alone near water, try to make contact to see why the child is there and where they should be.

  • Understand that more than 50% of Autistic children are non-verbal, they simple can’t communicate with you using words.

  • Know that many Autistic children are considered to be ‘runners’, meaning that they repeatedly attempt to leave whatever area they are in.  Commonly the parents will have installed many locks and fences but these children are masters of escape and evasion.  This is not a reflection on the parents ability to control the child, merely and unfortunate side effect of Autism.

  • If a caretaker can’t be located quickly and the child doesn’t seem to respond, keep a close watch on the child and send someone for help.

  • If the child is in imminent danger of entering the water it may be necessary to intervene.  Autistic children resist restraint with tremendous force and agitation.  You may not be able to hold the child but do what you can to keep them out of the water.

  • If you have an Autistic child, consider printing flyers to educate you neighbors (particularly those who live near the water) on your child’s tendencies and how to contact you quickly.


An autistic child can slip away from his or her home or yard without anyone noticing for many minutes.  If that child finds a source of water he or she may end up in it with know knowledge of the danger they are in until it is far too late.  Do your part to intercede anytime you see a child near a water source that may be dangerous.  If you have an autistic child be sure to let your neighbors know what to expect, even if they’ve never shown an interest in water before.  More information can be found at the Autism Society of America or the Fishers Fire Department