April is autism awareness month, and all across the country, people are participating in activities highlighting autism and those affected by the disorder.
And some are doing this by swimming.
Drowning is the number one cause of death in kids with autism. They don’t have fear of the water or the skills to ask for help. Considering one in five drowning deaths is a child 14 years or younger, educating children with autism about water safety can save lives.
A grant in Jacksonville, FL, is providing free swimming lessons to those vulnerable children. WJAX-TV reports these lessons have become a relief for parents.
Kimberly Belzer’s 12-year-old son Brandon is non-verbal, so he often communicates by hitting. But when he is in the pool, Brandon is calm and his hands are used for paddling.
Swimming Safari owner Joani Maskell says that being able to offer free swimming lessons to parents is priceless.
“They’re drawn to water, wherever they are. They might jump in the pool. They might jump in the ocean. They might jump in a retention pond,” Maskell says, so giving them the skills of being able to swim in case of an emergency is life changing.
In Baraboo, WI, the children are given challenges such as putting their faces in the water, blowing bubbles, floating on their backs, and kicking their legs.
These swimming lessons also reinforce goals the children are working on in their various therapy sessions. If they are taking speech therapy, blowing bubbles helps to train the facial muscles with rounding their lips forming the /b/ and /p/ sounds. Making a motorboat noise helps them approximate their lips for the /m/ sound.
Being immersed in a body of water gives children with autism the sensation they are in a safe and supported environment.