Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Does Your Special Needs Family Practice Water Safety?

A day at the beach, lake or pool can be a great way to beat the summer heat. Before you make a splash this summer, make sure you know basic water safety tips to keep you and your loved ones safe. 
How much do you know, and practice, when it comes to water safety? Unfortunately, there are many dangerous misconceptions that adults unconsciously pass on to children and other family members. It is unsettling how many people reportedly answered the following questions inaccurately:

  1. One way to keep young children safe in the water when you can’t stay close by is to have them wear inflatable arm bands or “water wings.” FALSE Inflatables, such as water wings, swim rings or other floatation devices, are not substitutes for U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets. Weak and inexperienced swimmers should wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets and remain under constant supervision. [1]
  2. It’s okay to swim without a lifeguard present if you are swimming with a buddy. FALSE Buddies alone are not enough to keep swimmers safe. Swimmers should swim only in designated swimming areas supervised by lifeguards. 
  3. It’s okay to read a magazine or talk on the phone while supervising children in the water. FALSE Parents and guardians should always actively supervise children whenever they are in or around water, staying within arm’s reach of young children and avoiding distractions, even when lifeguards are present. 
  4. This is the right order of actions to take if you see someone drowning: shout for help, reach or throw a rescue or flotation device, call 9-1-1 if needed. TRUE A whopping 93 percent of respondents were unable to identify the correct order of these actions if they were to see someone drowning. If you see a swimmer in distress, shout for help, reach or throw a rescue or flotation device, call 9-1-1 if needed.
  5. All of these signs can indicate a swimmer in trouble: Doggie paddling with no forward progress, hanging onto a safety line, floating on his/her back and waving arms. TRUE All of these signs can indicate a swimmer is in trouble. More than a third of Americans didn’t know these signs. A person may scream or splash, but quite often people who are in trouble in the water cannot or do not call out for help. They spend their energy trying to keep their head above water to get a breath.
All of my children (and grandchildren) love to play in the bathtub, swimming pool, lake and anywhere there is water. Before anyone in my special needs family is allowed to get into the water, or go anywhere near water, they have "water rules" they have to follow:
  • The only way for you, or anyone else, to go into the water is for me to supervise your play time in the water. 
  • Make sure that you use the bathroom, and grab your beach towel, before getting ready to play in the water.
  • Be safe and walk slow when you are near water of any kind such as a pool, bathroom or any slick surface.
  • Treat everyone as you want them to treat you. If you do not want to be splashed, do not splash anyone else. 
  • If you have, or someone else has, a problem while playing in the water, tell me immediately so that I can help.
  • When we tell you it is time to get out, there is no arguing allowed. If you decide to argue, no more water time.
Even if you have similar water safety rules for your family to follow, there is always the need to make sure you are prepared for the unexpected. It is important to have fences around swimming pools with gates that latch securely and that you can lock. Children, especially with Autism and other processing disorders, are drawn to bodies of water.
You should always be watching, and within arms length of, the children while they are playing in or near water. If you have to step away, have another responsible adult watch them until you can return. Being aware of your surroundings and responsible during water play reinforces and ensures the safety of everyone. 
I advise all parents, childcare workers and babysitters to take a CPR course. As a special needs parent and educator, I renew my CPR certification every two years. You can never be too careful when it comes to special needs children and their being drawn to water of any kind.
Drowning is one of the leading causes of death for children and adults with autism. Keep your child safe by making sure he or she knows how to swim. You should look for swimming lessons for children with special needs. Your child should learn how to swim with his/her clothes on, too.
However you choose to cool off, make sure you and your loved ones are prepared for a fun and safe summer. So, grab your towels, water, sunblock and remember to put safety first when around water!

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