Is Your Family Ready for Fun in the Water this Summer?
Water safety is a concern for all parents. This is especially true for the families of children with disabilities. While it poses some unique problems, it also carries some unique benefits.
Following the spoken and unspoken social rules at the pool can be a challenging task. Watch the video below with your child before you get into the pool this summer to help prepare them for the rules of the pool. If your child responds well to it, consider making your own that is more specific to you own child’s needs. For more information and resources visit www.adaptedswim.com.
On average two children per day under the age of 14 die from accidental drowning. Drowning is a leading cause of death for children with autism (and any child prone to wandering). Close and constant supervision, pool barriers, life jackets, and separating alcohol consumption from water activities are all important safety precautions. Sometimes these precautions are not enough if you have a child prone to wandering.
The problem with personal flotation devices is complacency
Coast Guard approved personal flotation devices (PFDs) are critical life saving devices and absolute requirements for boating or any time that family members are around large bodies of water. PFDs are wonderful devices and have saved many lives. The problems begin when adults and children develop a dependency on these devices and they become the only defense against a potential catastrophe. Panic is the typical outcome when children dependent on PFDs do have an aquatic accident and are not wearing their device. Panicking is the worst thing someone can do when falling into the water. A stiff and stressed body will sink, while a relaxed body will float. Flotation devices can give children a false sense of confidence leading your child to think they can swim by themselves without fully understanding their dependency on the flotation device. This is why learning to swim independently is critical to child water safety.
Single Point of Failure
Think of all the high-tech safety devices in the modern automobile and yet every time we load up the kids, we double-down on safety making sure they are properly restrained in even more safety devices. The key to better safety is to always have a backup plan; never rely on a single point of failure. There is no such thing as too much safety for our children. This goes for all family members: brother; sister; mom; dad and even grandma and grandpa. They need to be ever vigilant, trained and capable when it comes to the safety of children. The good news is that you can double-down on water safety for your children even if they have special needs.
Finding the right swimming program for children with special needs
This can be a tall order, but here are some important things to look for when searching for the right program for your child:
1. Make sure the swim program has a good track record of working with students with disabilities. Many programs are willing to work with students with disabilities, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they have the knowledge and skills to do so. Find out if the instructor has any specific certifications or has taken courses to learn more about working with students with disabilities. Try to find a program in your area taught by local professionals in the special education community. This might include special education teachers, special education teacher aides, or therapists. Ask if the program includes learning strategies that your child responds well to such as: visual aids, video modeling, social stories, etc. If they don’t, find out if they are willing to add some of these strategies into their program.
2. The program you choose should make learning to float a priority. Learning to relax and float is an essential safety component for anyone first learning to swim. If your children know how to float independently, they will have a strong defense if they find themselves in a sticky situation in the water. When someone relaxes and floats, they can breathe, call for help, or catch their breath and swim out of the water. Students should practice jumping in from the side of the pool and immediately going into a relaxed float as well as going down to the bottom of the pool and coming back up into a relaxed float.
3. A good program will have a fully clothed test for the students to simulate a real aquatic accident. The student may be pushed or gently tossed into the pool unexpectedly with all their clothes on. Sometimes this can be difficult for parents to watch, but it is important to remember that you are doing this because you want to equip your child with as many safety defenses as possible. This could save their life! Swimming with your clothes on feels very different than a swimsuit, especially if the student has a heightened sensory system. Practicing swimming with clothes lets them become familiar and comfortable with the sensations, so they aren’t shocked if they ever fall in unexpectedly. This, of course, only comes after adequate instruction has taken place and the student is ready for the task.
Aquatic activities are great fun and fitness for the entire family. Just because a child has a disability does not mean they can’t participate in the fun. Often times finding the right swim instructor with the right skill set for your child is all it takes. Be sure to research the swim programs in your area and always ask questions. Lastly, become an advocate for quality swimming programs for persons with disabilities in your area.
Images Courtesy Kristie Snape, Adaptive Aquatics of Georgia
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This post originally appeared on our May/June 2014 Magazine