Autistic Children: How a structured swimming class help — Super Swimmies
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20 Oct Autistic Children: How a structured swimming class help

It has always been a common knowledge that swimming pools, in general, are dangerous to children. This is especially true for autistic children. An authoritative study earlier this year put some numbers to this horrifying fear – drowning is the most common fatal injury among children with autism. Children with autism age 14 and younger are a whopping 160 times as likely to drown as compared to other children, with drowning risk peaking at ages 5 to 7.

“There are many factors that cause an autistic child to drown,” said Dr. Jeremiah Dickerson, a pediatric psychiatrist who directs the autism diagnostic clinic at the University of Vermont Medical Center. “Impulsivity is one part of it. They may not see the water as a danger, that they could fall in or that they could drown.”

The sensory aspects of water can also attract autistic children, though for various reasons, said Michele Alaniz, a behavioral therapist in California. “Some autistic children seek out stimulation; they are attracted by the way the water sounds, the play of light on the water surface, or even the feeling of buoyancy and the way it feels on the body,” she said.

Autistic children who are prone to isolating themselves from stimulation may also find water to be very calming, especially under the water, where the muffling of external sound and a kind of quiet may calm them down. This can lead to the children submerging themselves in water and not realise the danger, or to not have the skills to react when they do.

“We’ve put these children in the pool, and where others would sort of cling to the wall and hold on, the ones with autism would just release and sink,” said Alaniz.

Autistic children are also in more significant danger as when they are in trouble, they may not have the communication skills or language to seek help. “Some children also suffer from motor discoordination, resulting in them being unable to pull themselves out of the water.” said Dickerson.

Thankfully, researchers are working to understand the risks and how to counteract them — including helping parents and swim instructors teach water safety to autistic children.

Swimming safely

On a good note, research has shown that children with autism can learn to be safe around water. A study published in September in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders provides preliminary evidence that even children with severe autism can learn techniques to avoid drowning.

“It’s more of a challenge to teach kids with severe autism,” Alaniz said. “But, yes, they can learn to swim safely, [with] skills like breath control and how to turn over in the water.”

In America, many schools and organisations are creating water safety classes for children with autism.

In getting autistic children to learn swimming, there are a few adjustments required for the children that include getting them used to being touched and to the feel of the water. Instructors may also have to teach lessons or parts of lessons in a different order than usual. These are among the reasons that swim lessons for children with autism are given individually, rather than in the usual group setting.

But the most important requirement, said McMordie, is being patient with the way children with autism receive, understand, and follow instructions. Dickerson also recommends instructors using pictures to help children understand what was being taught as well.

 

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Original post from Statnews.

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