Here Comes Summer! Water Safety Tips for Children with Special Needs

Updated: Jul 8

By Grace Kelly

Here comes summer! As we get into the warm summer months, we know that everyone will be having some pool day fun. Skills On The Hill is bringing you pro tips to prepare for all the upcoming water fun and keep you safe around the pool.

One of the most important roadblocks to prevent drowning is safety first. It’s extremely important to have safe behaviors around all bodies of water, including pools, bathtubs, lakes, and oceans. A few ways to do this are to create set rituals and routines around getting in the water, we want to encourage the use of social stories, we want to do safe submersions and practice safe saves.

There are some scary facts about unintentional drowning: roughly 48% of kids with autism, attempt to elope from a safe environment, which is a rate that that is nearly 4 times higher than their unaffected siblings according to the National Autism Association. According to the CDC out of the 10 people who drown per day, two are children under the age of 14; and, drowning continues to rank 5th among the leading causes of unintentional injury or death in the United States. These statistics remind us that it’s incredibly important to learn safe behaviors around the pool or around any body of water, especially with children.

Rituals and Routines:

The first important thing to promote safe water practices is to create good rituals and routines; starting with always asking an adult before getting in any body of water, whether it be getting in the bathtub or the pool.

Tip #1 Try using a visual waiting spot, or switching up your ritual, to encourage children to wait before hopping in the pool. This can be…

· playing a quick game before getting in the pool, like ‘head shoulder knees and toes’ then sitting down before asking permission to get in the pool. By elongating the ritual, you are aiming to decrease your child’s impulsivity of running into the water, by giving them a routine to complete beforehand.

· actively participating in the ritual of putting on sunscreen. This way the children associate putting on sunscreen first, and then going into the water. This practice also encourages proprioceptive input by rubbing sunscreen or wipes in circular motions on their face or arms, eliciting more of a calming response before they get in the water.

· Creating an end routine to leave the pool/body of water, such as getting out of the pool and doing burritos with the towel, going to the locker room and getting a snack. Ending on a positive note can really help with the transition of getting out of the pool.

· preparing child for any hidden rules or unexpected behaviors around water.

o Walking feet on Pool Deck

o Use a social story before getting to the pool

o Provide visuals of the pool

o Adult swim

o Whistle blowing (especially if they have over-sensitivity to sound)

o How deep the water is

Tips for Safe Submersions

· Encouraging and practicing blowing bubbles out through mouth and nose.

· Practice going under both with and without goggles. You can use bath time or washing your face at home as a good opportunity to practice.

· Sensory seekers may hold their breath under water to gain additional input. This is risky and increases the risk of drowning. Encourage kids to blow bubbles out through their mouth and nose instead in order to decrease the risk of drowning.

For children that have tactile sensitivity to water, the trick is to slowly introduce water to the face bit by bit. Start by touching water to the chin, touching to both cheeks, the ear, and then the nose. Have the child mimic you, slowly upgrading the input on their faces so it is no longer aversive.

How to Practice Safe Saves

Teach your child what a lifeguard is and what a rescue tube does. Let them know a lifeguard watches the pool and if a child is having a tricky time, they throw the tube into water. Increasing the education piece on what lifeguards do and how the rescue tubes work.

Tip #2 Practice using the safety tube for increased safety awareness in the community.

Encourage practicing with the tube, including holding on to the side of the tube, squeezing it and feeling the squishy foam. Practice grabbing the tube and taking the side of the pool. So in the case of an unexpected event, the kiddo is familiar with the tube and how it works.

Tip #3 Practice "taking the side" rather than reaching for an adult.

Make sure to educate staff and lifeguards in the facility so they can properly support your child.

Steps to Safe Swimming

Learn to swim—it’s never too late to learn. It’s an important skill to learn, especially in case of an emergency. Take a CPR class. Provide close supervision when children are in the water. If using any flotation devices, make sure they are Coast Guard approved personal flotation devices for the most safety. Understand the risks associated with various bodies of water. For example, oceans or lakes are going to have different. There may be rip currents, unclear or muggy water, and shallow deep. It is important to learn about all of the different aspects of the water before entering it so that you are the most educated about how to swim in it.

Tip #4 Use a visual schedule to assist in transitions. This helps children learn what’s first, what’s last, and what happens in between!

Want to learn more about Skills On The Hill and how we can assist your kiddo with water safety this summer? Click here to read our Water Safety Guide for more information on how you can stay in the pool this summer. Also, visit our aquatic services page to learn more about how Skills On The Hill’s programs can benefit your child.

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