Water is a magnet for all children. It's fun. It's soothing. Water is the ultimate, non-threatening hug. As an adult, what is your reaction when you sink into a hot bath? Or sip a cool glass of water on a hot day.
Aaaaaahhhhhhh. Exactly! Now magnify that attraction and that reaction by 100, and you’ll know exactly what an autistic child feels like when they are immersed in water.
Autistic kids need, want, and benefit from being in the water more than most. They learn how to control themselves and can feel soothed, calmed, able to listen and to learn. Water is the ultimate hug for an autistic child and a proven and effective source of therapy. For more about how water helps an autistic child, I suggest reading Autism and the role of Aquatic Therapy... and checking out the resources at SurfersHealing.org.
More than one million children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with autism and the numbers keep rising. Water is one of the most effective therapies for these children, but there is another side to the story. Autistic kids are more likely to seek out water because it is so comforting. They are less likely to remember cues about avoiding danger and are more likely to become escape artists: evading their parents and caregivers to seek out the places they feel good. For more information on some of the common dangers, including seizures, check out this post on AutismParents.net.
So, teaching autistic kids water safety at an early age takes on a special urgency. Convincing your child to stay away from something that gives them enormous pleasure is an exercise in futility. Don’t deny them the pleasure. Teach them how to interact safely with the source of that pleasure.
Any doubt about the smiles and giggles that happen when you put a child in the water? Watch Nicole Dino, the aquatics coordinator at Miami Children’s Hospital in the water with 7-year old Ethan. And try to tell me you didn’t smile when you watched Ethan. Yes, water and kids belong together.