Water Safety & Drowning Prevention

Please note that this page is inclusive for all families and contains tips & information that is applicable to neurotypical children and children with autism.

Whether it’s bathtime, swimming, jumping in puddles or simply splashing around at the beach, water-play remains a common favorite activity among kids, especially those with autism. Unfortunately, water also carries significant risk.

Drowning Statistics

  • Drowning is a leading cause of injury-related death among the general pediatric population, especially those younger than 4 and teens.
  • For children with autism, the risk of drowning is 160 times that of the general pediatric population, according to a 2017 study from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health
  • According to a 2017 study from the National Autism Association, drowning accounts for more than 70% of wandering-related fatalities

Given these data, it is extremely important to enroll your child into swimming lessons as early as possible.

For those with autism, additional considerations include wandering prevention. For resources and tips, visit our wandering prevention page.

Have You P.A.S.S.E.D. the Water Safety Test?

Six inclusive Water Safety Recommendations for Parents

Protective Barriers & Gear

Install fencing, self-latching closing gate that locks, and pool and hot-tub covers. On boats, always protect your child with protective gear like a life jacket. For kids with autism and other special needs, alert neighbors about wandering tendencies and the elevated risk of seeking water. Take note of any water sources without barriers, such as ponds, lakes, and fountains. Search these areas first if your child is ever missing.

Alarms & Safeguards

Install gate and pool alarms, and alarms on windows and doors. Remove toys from the pool and empty buckets, baby pools, and tubs after use. For children with autism and other special needs, use alarms along with visual aids like stop signs on doors, windows and pool gates.

Swimming Lessons

Enroll your child in swimming lessons as early as possible. Check with your local aquatics center, YMCA, or Red Cross for options. Safe Splash Swim School also has 100+ U.S. locations (safesplash.com). For children with autism and other special needs, ask these facilities for lessons specific to their needs. For children with autism, make sure the final lesson is done with clothing and shoes on.


Always supervise your child and stay at arm’s length at all times without distractions. Remember that more eyes do not equal more protection. Assign one responsible person to watch your child at all times for an agreed-upon period of time. This is especially important during family gatherings, outdoor parties, and times of crowds and commotion.


Continue to educate your children about water safety. Teach them about safety rules, safe areas to swim, how to gauge weather, how to identify and avoid riptides, the importance having lifeguards around, and learning CPR once they get older. For children with autism & other special needs, use social stories to educate them about water safety, and safe areas to swim versus unsafe areas.

Don’t Swim Alone

Neither adults nor children should ever swim alone. Model this behavior and make sure your child understands they should always be with a trusted adult before entering water, and as they get older, to buddy up. For children with autism and other special needs, use social stories to educate them about trusted adults and to never enter water alone. You can also use visual schedules to help demonstrate when it’s time for water play or swimming.

Autism & Water Safety: Critical Information

  • Children with autism will often go straight to water regardless of its temperature or type.
  • Even if your child does not seem to like bathtime or swimming at the pool, natural water sources may be perceived differently. These include ponds, lakes, fountains, rivers, canals, even wastewater.
  • Use social stories to educate them about water safety, trusted adults, and to never walk away from a trusted adult or enter water alone. You can also use visual schedules to help demonstrate when it’s time for water play or swimming.
  • Take every precaution to prevent wandering/elopement. Visit our wandering prevention page for tips and resources.
  • Teaching your child how to swim can help lower risk, but does not eliminate risk, so it’s important to stay vigilant.
  • If you own a pool, fence your pool and use gates that self-close and self-latch higher than your children’s reach. Remove all toys or items of interest from the pool when not in use.
  • Neighbors with pools should be made aware of these safety precautions and your child’s tendency to wander.
  • If your child with autism is missing, always search nearby water first.

Ways to Find Special Needs Swimming Lessons in Your Area

  • Safe Splash Swim School has 100+ U.S. locations and provides swimming lessons for neurotypical children and those with autism and other special needs
  • Google ‘Special Needs Swimming Lessons’ or ‘Swimming Lessons’ + Your City, State.
  • Ask your local swim facility, such as YMCA, to provide swimming lessons. If you child has special needs, ask if they can accommodate your child’s unique needs.
  • Search for a swim school in your area that is a member of the United States Swim School Association. The association teaches a course internationally that trains swim instructors how to teach swimmers with special needs.