A summer family activity often means swimming at a pool, lake, river or beach. Regardless of the location, the same water safety rules apply. Many things that happen to our children are beyond our control but being safe around water IS entirely in the hands of parents. Water safety is a life skill that our children will in turn hand down to their kids. Drowning is the second most common cause of death from injuries among kids under the age of 14. For every child who drowns, another five are hospitalized and another 16 are treated for submersion injuries. Take water safety seriously, teach it to your children and know your child’s safety near water is YOUR responsibility.
Water Safety and the Child with Autism
The National Autism Association writes “… tragically, children and adults with autism are often attracted to water sources such as pools, ponds, and lakes. Drowning is a leading cause of death for a child or adult who has autism.” According to the National Autism Association, drowning is the #1 cause of injury-related deaths in children with an autism spectrum disorder. Each year children with ASD die from drowning, when these children wander off and are attracted to water. Autistic children do not seem to fear “death” the way we do. At early ages, they do not understand the finality of death nor are they afraid of those things that could cause death, like water.
In a paper entitled, Lethal Outcomes In Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) Wandering/Elopement authors Lori McIlwain and Wendy Fournier – National Autism Association, January 20, 2012 wrote,“Because drowning was responsible for the majority of wandering/elopement related fatalities, water safety initiatives designed for the autism community and other special needs populations are critical, as well as federal programs designed to train first responders on how to respond to a missing child/adult with an ASD.”
Facts to Motivate Parents to Teach Water Safety
On the Canadian Red Cross site I learned that drowning is one of the leading causes of unintentional death for Canadian children ages one to four. A small child can disappear in seconds and can drown in only a few centimeters of water—enough to cover the mouth and nose. Typically these drownings occur in backyard pools, toddler pools, the bathtub, or at the beach.
1. Drowning is usually quick and silent.
2. A child can drown in as little as one inch of water. Kids in a bathtub must be watched!
3. Drowning can happen so fast — sometimes in less than 2 minutes after a person’s head goes under the water.
4. Permanent brain damage occurs within 4-6 minutes.
5. 86% of children who fall into water are wearing all of their clothes.
Basic Water Safety Rules
Families must follow the same basic water safety rules regardless where they are. Then specific water safety precautions must be practiced and taught depending where you are. My three children worked as lifeguards during their teen years and I cannot emphasize enough that being at a pool or beach with lifeguards DOES NOT mean you can lay down and close your eyes…NOT for a moment. Life guards enforce the rules, clear the beach when a rescue is needed or danger is present but a responsible caregiver must watch their own child at all times.
A. Never leave a child alone near a body of water, not even for a second. Maintain constant, eyes-on uninterrupted supervision.
B. Do not rely on lifeguards to watch your child. Lifeguards are there to enforce the rules.
C. Teach your kids not to cry for help unless there is an emergency.
D. Don’t allow gum chewing or eating while swimming — swimmer could choke.
E. Only use flotation devices that are approved.
F. Always use approved life jackets in a boat. A reported 55% of children under 14 who drowned in boating accidents were not wearing life jackets.
G. Do not swim or go on a boat during bad weather or storms.
H. Always put on plenty of sunscreen before you go outside. It’s also a good idea to wear sunglasses and a hat to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays.
Water Safety Around Swimming Pools
Swimming pools are great fun when used well. You must have a complete enclosure of outdoor pools with fencing on all four sides and have self-latching and self-closing gates. No child is permitted inside without an adult present. Always obey pool rules. Check for the pool safety signs about the depth of the water and where to dive. Never run or horse play because a pool’s sides and bottom are made of concrete. A slip or fall is painful and may be dangerous.
Water Safety Around Lakes or Rivers
The water in lakes and rivers may be too dark to see the bottom well; therefore, wearing protective foot gear is recommended if the child will be wading. This protects the feet from sharp rocks or debris. Also you must warn the child that aquatic plants and even eels or fish might be in the water …better to know than panic because the child thinks a lake monster touched him! Also be prepared to remove a blood sucker (a leech, that sucks blood) quickly with ordinary table salt.
Diving is the leading sports-related cause of spinal-cord injuries. 95% of diving injuries occur in water 5 feet deep or less, in an unsupervised setting with no warning signs. Be sure you know about the depth of water where your children will be swimming and diving.
The depth of the water varies depending on rainfall amount and water being allowed to flow from or into other bodies of water by opening or closing dams. Also each winter, ice and storms move the bottom gravel and even big rocks, so do not rely on previous visits to this area and think you know where the SAFE areas are. Each year fallen branches and floating debris sink to the bottom making diving in lakes, rivers and streams even more dangerous.
Water Safety at an Ocean Beach
Splashing, wading, and swimming in the ocean… what a perfect summer activity. To make it safe, try to find a supervised beach. Before going in the water, check for signs/chalkboard or talk to the lifeguard about the tides, strength of the waves, rip currents, jelly fish count, UV index… and adjust your water frolicking accordingly.
Rip currents (also called riptides) are so strong that they can carry a swimmer away from shore before he knows what’s happening. If someone is caught in a current, he must swim parallel to the shore (alongside the shore) rather than to the shore until the water stops pulling, then he can swim back to shore. Checking first will prevent this from happening and a dangerous rescue can be avoided.
Parents, be prepared for a lot of standing or walking if the tide is low. Your child may want to wade in deeper water and it could be meters away from the shore… remember stay within sight and REACH of your child. To help on such a day, young children and weak swimmers may wear approved life-jackets.
Learning water safety is key to preventing accidents in or on the water. By practicing and teaching water safety you are giving your children life skills that will allow them to enjoy each season. They can safely have fun ice skating, boating, fishing and my favourites, canoeing and swimming! However remember that adult supervision is the best protection for children – even for those who can swim.
How do you make sure your child understands how to be safe in and around water?