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Karen Wang
BY Karen Wang
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5 Water Safety Resources For Children With Special Needs

Water safety is a year-round concern for families of children with special needs. Organizations that promote water safety, such as the American Red Cross and the National Safety Council, cite a parent or caregiver’s undivided attention as the single most important safety tool near water.  But even with direct supervision, children with special needs can still find themselves in danger of drowning.  Children with seizure disorders or autism are at especially high risk of accidental drowning.

How is it possible to develop a water safety plan when a child has difficulty learning?  In my own family, we have spent years teaching swimming and water safety skills, but we still have to take precautions whenever we are near water.  With an appropriate safety plan, we are able to enjoy our family time at the beach or pool.  Here are five resources for teaching water safety to your child with special needs.

1. Reduce fear

Children are naturally attracted to water, but at the same time, they may be frightened of it.  The sensation of touching water may induce panic immediately, or the panic may start after an initially pleasurable feeling of immersion.  A few years ago, I found myself in a lake’s deep water with both of my children, weighing a combined 120 pounds, clinging to me.  Even with years of swimming lessons, both children became nervous in deep water.  Fortunately we had a water mat and were close to shore.  I knew that I had to go back to square one and work through the fear step-by-step again.

2. Life vest

At the beach
Some water parks now require a life vest on all children under age 4, and most boat rental outfits require life vests on all children in the boat.  Life vests do not always prevent drowning, but they do help keep the child more visible in the water and can buy precious seconds for rescue.  

Adaptive life vests can provide additional head and neck support support for individuals with low muscle tone.  In my family we decided to buy life vests for our children to use in any open body of water.  Eventually it became habit that they put on the life vests every time we head to the beach.  Here is Ellen Seidman’s review of the best swim gear for children with special needs

3. Your Local Parks and Recreation Department

It is always worthwhile to contact a city’s Parks and Recreation department to ask about accommodations for residents with disabilities.  Many areas have an adapted aquatics division within Parks and Rec, and many more can offer private or individualized lessons.  In my city, one-on-one, 30-minute swim lessons cost about $5 more than group lessons, and are scheduled at a time that my son’s instructor and I agree upon.

4. Water Safety Scholarships

Ask at your local aquatics center if scholarships are available for students with disabilities!  Autism Speaks now gives grants to organizations that offer instruction in adaptive aquatics so that individuals with autism can receive free swimming lessons.  Other non-profits, such as One With The Water in Los Angeles, provide scholarships for adapted aquatics lessons, too.  

5. Learn CPR

Being prepared for an emergency is always a great idea.  Training in first aid and cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) will help you understand the warning signs of an emergency as well as the mechanics of clearing the airway and performing chest compressions.  Some cities offer free CPR and first aid certification through the local fire department, and the American Heart Association maintains a listing of CPR classes across the USA.  The first part of CPR training can be completed online here.
Do you know of additional resources for water safety? Please share in the comments below.

Karen Wang

Written on October 20, 2015 by:

Karen Wang is a Friendship Circle parent. You may have seen her sneaking into the volunteer lounge for ice cream or being pushed into the cheese pit by laughing children. She is a contributing author to the anthology "My Baby Rides the Short Bus: The Unabashedly Human Experience of Raising Kids With Disabilities"
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