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Autism Speaks Creates Swimming and Water Safety Scholarship Program

Date Published: 
February 13, 2014

Photo illustration of girl swimming in poolAutism Speaks, the science and advocacy organization, has created a program to help service providers offer scholarships for swimming and water safety lessons for people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The group hopes to improve safety and prevent drownings.

Interactive Autism Network's Wandering Research Cited

In announcing the scholarship program, Autism Speaks cited a 2012 study by the Interactive Autism Network that found that almost half of children with autism wander or run away. Wandering can pose a particular danger when people with ASD are attracted to pools, lakes and other bodies of water, and cannot swim. From 2009 through 2011, the National Autism Association reported, "accidental drowning accounted for 91 percent of the total U.S. deaths reported in children with autism ages 14 and younger" after they wandered, according to an Autism Speaks' news release.

“The ability of individuals with autism to swim and to understand the importance of water safety is a major factor in efforts to prevent the heartbreaking drowning incidents that are far too common in our community,” said Lisa Goring, executive vice president of Family Services at Autism Speaks. “Everyone in the autism community should have access to these critical services. By removing a significant financial barrier for families, the Autism Speaks Scholarship Fund for Swimming and Water Safety will allow more people with autism to acquire these skills and will better ensure their safety as a result.”

People with autism or their families may not apply directly to the scholarship fund, according to Autism Speaks' website. Instead, Autism Speaks is taking applications from local organizations that provide qualified swimming and water safety lessons for people with autism, according to the news release. Those organizations would in turn offer swimming and water safety scholarships to "financially disadvantaged" people with autism. Autism Speaks encouraged interested families to contact local providers of swimming lessons and ask them to apply to the scholarship program.

The IAN wandering and elopement study, published in the journal Pediatrics, found that 49 percent of children with ASD attempted to "elope" (run away) from homes, stores and classrooms at least once after age 4, and of those children, more than half were missing long enough to cause concern.

Running or wandering away was more common among younger children. From ages 4 to 7, 46 percent of children with ASD eloped -- four times the rate of unaffected siblings. A little more than one-fourth of the affected children ages 8 to 11 eloped, compared to just 1 percent of unaffected siblings. Almost one-fourth of the missing children had a close call with drowning, according to the study.