Survival Skills for the Summer

Friends Swimming Underwater in Backyard Pool --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Submitted by: Lindsey Merritt, BCBA

With temperatures rising all around us, many families are flocking to beaches, assembling above ground pools in their backyards, or finding relief in nearby lakes and public pools.  It shouldn’t be a surprise that accidental drownings occur more frequently in the warmer months.  Swimming is a critical, life-saving skill that should not be ignored. This is especially true for children and adults with Autism.  According to the National Autism Association’s website, accidental drownings accounted for 91% of total deaths reported in children with Autism for ages fourteen and younger between 2009 and 2011.  This often goes hand in hand with children that wander away from their homes or from their parents when out in the community (Read Kasey Gerhart’s March 9th blog to find out more about wandering and elopement!). In addition, statistics from the National Autism Association also report that 32% of parents surveyed said their child had a close call with a possible drowning incident.  The thought of drowning can be a scary thought for most parents.  However, teaching our children with Autism to swim can help save their life.

There are several companies across the country that teach kids with special needs how to swim.  In fact, the National Autism Association has a webpage devoted to all companies that offer swim lessons to kids with disabilities categorized by state.  The webpage provides the name, number, city, and state of each company.  I had the pleasure of speaking with David, a swim coach with Aquamobile, a national company that provides several services including home-based swim lessons for children with disabilities.  He gave me some insight on different techniques used to help children with Autism learn to swim.  Experienced swim instructors start lessons by interviewing the parents to get their expertise on how their child learns best.  Then they pair with the child (get to know the child and pairing themselves with positive, fun experiences for the child). David mentioned that instructors typically “teach to the flow of the child.”  Instruction often takes place during play and other naturally occurring activities, rather than specified teaching trials or instruction.  Next, repetition of swim techniques are used to help teach children with special needs how to swim and/or learn other survival skills like grabbing onto a wall to safety or floating in the water.

Your child’s behavior analsyt can collaborate with swim instructors to help provide the best outcome for your child.  Behavior analysts can help provide research-based interventions to help your child learn swim techniques.  This, combined with swim instructor’s expertise on swimming techniques can help your child be successful.  After all, applied behavior analysis is not just for the clinic!  Have a great summer and stay safe as you try to stay cool!