Need: Aquatic safety and awareness are important for all children, especially children with autism given their heightened fascination with water. Researchers at the Center for Injury Epidemiology and Prevention at Columbia University conducted a study to determine the relationship between autism and death by injury. According to the study, individuals with autism die by accidental injury at a rate three times higher than the general population. Almost half (46 per cent) of unintentional injury deaths for those with autism occurred by drowning. When compared with typically developing peers, researchers found that children with autism drown 160 times more frequently.
Solution: The good news is that something can be done. A common hallmark of autism is a hypersensitivity to the environment, along with processing delays in verbal and social communication. Providing accessible water safety courses and swimming lessons specifically tailored to those with autism would have almost immediate impact. Such programming would have the double bonus of providing both safety and recreational benefits for autism families.
Program: Children with autism and other developmental disorders have significant sensory difficulties and are distracted very easily. These children over- or under-react to stimuli in their environment and have very strong reactions to certain textures. The warm water provides an environment that not only supports the children, but also provides them with hydrostatic pressure that surrounds their body in the water. Warm water also reduces spasticity and relaxes muscles. Engaging in well-directed activities in the water helps the child gauge his/her own body boundaries better, allows them to regulate the force their body exerts when playing or working on tasks (thereby avoiding hurting themselves or others) and improves posture and coordination. Furthermore, the amount of energy required to do activities in the water helps decrease the child’s hyperactivity, resulting in a better ability to concentrate on tasks afterwards, improved sleep patterns and eating habits.
The aquatic program will be offered on a weekly basis throughout the school year (weather permitting). The Program Coordinator as well as other staff members will be in the water with the children at all times, while also receiving supervision from trained lifeguards to ensure optimum safety. Out of school instruction will also be incorporated in the program. Pool safety, fitness, video modeling, etc. will be addressed based on the individual learning styles and levels of the students.With future plans to offer after school hours.