5 Water Safety Tips for Autism Parents

  • Home
  • 5 Water Safety Tips for Autism Parents
5 Water Safety Tips for Autism Parents

Every parent should be proactive in keeping their child safe near water, but water safety becomes even more important for parents with a child on the Autism Spectrum. Kids on the Spectrum often have an increased risk of wandering (also called elopement) and water, which can provide a calming sensory experience, is a popular draw for children with ASD. Here are five tips designed to help parents of children with Autism keep their little ones safe this summer.

water safety for autism child using flotation device
Photographer: Terry Jaskiw | Source: Unsplash

1. Teach Water Safety Skills

Educating your child about water safety from a young age is fundamental. This goes beyond just swimming lessons; parents should teach their little ones the importance of only approaching water with an adult. Here are a few ways you can get started:

  • Use Social Stories: A social story is a short narrative personalized to your child that teaches them how to approach certain situations. Social stories often use pictures or visual cues to make concepts clear and easy to understand. Use this template of a water safety social story from the Autism Society or create your own with your child’s help!
  • Practice, Practice, Practice: Flex your child’s water safety skills in different environments like pools, lakes, ponds, and oceans. Regular practice in different settings helps reinforce safe behaviors no matter where you’re spending summer days.
  • Adapt Teaching Methods: You know your child better than anyone else. So, when teaching water safety skills, tailor your approach to match how your child learns. You can even apply principles of ABA to help reinforce safe behaviors. For example, when your child successfully uses their water safety skills, you can provide a preferred reward. This encourages them to keep up the good work and positively reinforces safe behavior. Depending on your child’s preferences this reward could be anything from verbal praise or time doing a preferred activity, to a big hug celebrating their success.

2. Maintain Close Supervision

Children with Autism should never be left unsupervised around any body of water, for any length of time, no matter how shallow the water might be. Drowning is a leading cause of death for children on the Spectrum, and according to the Autism Society of Florida, children with Autism are 160 times more likely to drown than their neurotypical peers. We know that sounds scary, but it’s the reason extra vigilance is critical.

  • Stay Within Arm’s Reach: Keep your child within arm's length when near or in water.
  • Life Jackets Always: Ensure that your child wears a life jacket at all times when near or in the water, even if swimming isn’t planned.
  • Visible Swimsuit Colors: The color of your child’s swimsuit could save their life. Suits look different underwater than they do at the surface. Shades like white or light blue will completely disappear when your child is underwater and dark colors like purple, navy blue, or black can blend in seamlessly with lake water. According to experts at Alive Solutions Inc., parents should opt for bright, high-contrast colors like neon yellow, orange, and green. Check out this color test to see how different swimsuit colors look in pool water vs. lake water.
  • Avoid Distractions: Stay focused on your child by avoiding distractions such as cell phones or engaging in intense conversations.
  • Enlist Help: If you’re having a beach day with friends make sure they understand the risks associated with Autism and water. Two or three sets of eyes keeping tabs on your child will always be better than one.

3. Secure Your Home Environment

Safety doesn’t stop at the pool or beach. If you have a pool in your backyard or are staying near water, like at a family camp, the following tips can help prevent emergencies.

  • Fencing: If you have an inground pool, make sure there is a properly installed fence that encloses all sides and a lockable gate to control access. Use pool alarms to alert you if someone enters the area unexpectedly. For above-ground pools, prevent access by removing ladders and locking doors to deck areas that connect with the pool.
  • Door/Window Alarms: If you live on or near a body of water, set up door and window alarms in your home to be quickly alerted in the event your child wanders off. Audio alerts can help you quickly respond and locate your kiddo before they encounter a potentially dangerous situation.
  • Store Toys Away from Water: Nothing gets a child’s attention faster than a favorite toy! We suggest keeping preferred items away from the pool areas to avoid attracting children towards the water.

4. Teach Your Child Essential Swimming Skills

General water safety is vital to keeping your child safe and, learning how to swim is another critical skill set! Your child should know how to do the following:

  • Step or jump into deep water.
  • Return to the surface.
  • Float/tread in water for one minute.
  • Turn in a full circle.
  • Identify/seek exit points.
  • Swim 25 yards without stopping.
  • Exit the pool without using ladder assistance.

If you don’t feel comfortable teaching your child these skills, we recommend signing up for swim lessons with an instructor who has experience working with kids on the Autism Spectrum. An instructor with this kind of background can help address sensory issues and create a learning plan tailored to your child’s needs.

5. Learn CPR and Know the Signs of Drowning

Equip yourself with lifesaving skills such as CPR and first aid. We never want to think about an accident happening, but being prepared can make all the difference. It’s also important to know the signs of drowning so you can jump into action as soon as help is needed:

  • Quiet Struggle: Unlike what we see in movies, drowning is often silent. A child struggling may not be able to call for help.
  • Vertical Position: A child who is drowning will usually be upright in the water without kicking.
  • Head Tilted Back with Mouth Open: If you notice a child with their head tilted back trying to keep their mouth above water, they might be struggling.
  • Glassy or Empty Eyes: Pay attention to any changes in your child's eyes; if they look glassy or unfocused, it could indicate trouble.


Water safety is paramount for every family but requires extra attention when caring for children with Autism. By implementing these tips you can help reduce the risks associated with summer days at the beach.