In honor of Autism Acceptance Month, we’d like to recognize those within our community who are using their voices to bring greater awareness to the additional drowning risks autistic children face, and the importance of water safety education for all children.
While drowning remains the leading cause of accidental death in children ages 1-4, research indicates “kids with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are 160 times more likely to die from drowning compared with the general pediatric population,” largely due to their natural affinity toward water and tendency to elope.
According to the authors of a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, swim lessons for autistic children should be a priority, and we agree.
Continue reading to learn how one family is working with Goldfish Swim School - Winter Park to give the gift of water safety to families in Florida, and receive drowning prevention tips from board-certified pediatrician Dr. Molly O’Shea.
ALIJAH’S SWIMMERS: RAISING AWARENESS FOR AUTISM & GIVING THE GIFT OF WATER SAFETY
In honor of Autism Acceptance Month, Goldfish Swim School – Winter Park has joined forces with Alijah’s Awareness to launch Alijah’s Swimmers Scholarships.
Alijah’s Awareness was founded by Allyson Alvarez and Eric Gonzalez after their daughter, Alijah, was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder when she was 14 months old. As parents, they were committed to her health and wellness, conducting their own research and due diligence to help their child progress and develop. They created the Alijah’s Awareness platform to share their family’s story and inspire other families going through similar experiences. Sadly, in 2019 they faced a heartbreaking tragedy, losing their two-year-old daughter to a drowning accident while vacationing in Florida.
After the tragedy, they uncovered the staggering statistics on childhood drownings for autistic children, and felt passionately about bringing greater awareness to autism and drowning prevention. After learning more about Goldfish Swim School and our proprietary philosophy, The Science of SwimPlay®, which builds life skills both in and out of the water using play-based learning in a fun and safe environment, they sought out a partnership opportunity that would allow them to make a positive impact.
“This partnership allows my husband and I the opportunity to make it known to parents of autistic children how essential it is that their child have swim lessons,” said Alvarez. “What I didn’t know then that I know now is that it wasn’t a personal characteristic of Alijah’s that she loved water; in fact, many autistic children have a heightened interest and curiosity for water that can be dangerous. When we learned about Goldfish Swim School and saw what they’ve been able to achieve with their programs, we knew we found a partner as passionate about water safety as we are.”
Committed to preventing another family from feeling their heartbreak, Allyson and Eric are generously donating 10 three-month swimming scholarships in Alijah's honor, to provide children near Winter Park, FL with the opportunity to learn a lifesaving skill and become safer in and around the water.
“We know it takes a village to enact real change and are grateful for this partnership opportunity and those supporting us in our cause,” added Alvarez. “We believe Alijah left us with this job and we’ll continue to honor her legacy by helping families who may not have the means to pay for swim lessons. Although autism is near and dear to our hearts, we’d like to help anyone who wants swim lessons for their children, not just those with special needs. Drowning can happen anywhere at any time, to anyone.”
Alijah’s Swimmers Scholarship recipients will be announced on Goldfish Swim School – Winter Park’s social media the first week of May. Each chosen family will be contacted directly to begin the onboarding process and gear up for lessons just in time for National Water Safety Month (May) and the summer season ahead. For the opportunity to become a scholarship recipient, or to nominate a deserving family in the Winter Park, FL area, please complete this entry form by April 30, 2021.
“We are so grateful to be able to pursue this partnership opportunity and help even more children in our community learn a lifesaving skill,” said Gina Jacobs Thomas, owner of Goldfish Swim School – Winter Park. “Our mission is to ensure all kids feel safe and confident in and around the water, and this scholarship program gets us one step closer to achieving our goal of reducing the number of accidental childhood drownings. We look forward to welcoming new children to our school and are beyond appreciative of the Alijah’s Awareness donation and their commitment to spreading the important message of water safety.”
AUTISM & DROWNING PREVENTION: HOW TO KEEP KIDS SAFE IN AND AROUND WATER
As educators and advocates, pediatricians play an important role in the prevention of drowning. From car seat safety and sleeping schedules to tummy time and screen time, parents often turn to pediatricians for advice on how to keep their children healthy, growing and safe, and water safety should be no exception.
As a board-certified pediatrician at Birmingham Pediatrics + Wellness Center, and the official pediatrician of Goldfish Swim School, Dr. Molly O’Shea encourages parent-pediatrician conversations about water safety and the value of starting swim lessons at a young age for all children.
When it comes to providing parents with the information they need to keep their children safe in (and around) water, Dr. Molly says drowning prevention requires layers of protection and encourages parents of autistic children to take the following precautions:
Enroll your child in swim lessons
Swim lessons are essential for providing your child with lifesaving water safety skills and have the ability to help reduce the risk of childhood drownings by 88%. Through swim lessons, children learn important skills, such as keeping their head above water, knowing how to roll on their backs if they feel endangered and properly getting in and out of the pool. As such, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends swim lessons at the age of one, if not sooner.
Many swim schools offer classes designed to help children who may need a modified approach to swim lessons. It might take your child a little longer to learn the routines and motor movements of swim lessons, as the sensory experience at the pool may be overwhelming at first, but speaking with instructors about your child’s strengths and preferred teaching styles ahead of time can enhance their experience and help reinforce the important skills they’ll learn.
Always Assign an Adult Water Guardian
In addition to early and frequent swim lessons (don’t rely on swim lessons once and stop — kids need ongoing exposure, reinforcement and experience!), designate a water guardian whose job it is to watch the kids any time pools or lakes are nearby. Their sole responsibility needs to be keeping an eye on the swimmers, so vigilance is key. That means no distractions like chatting or checking your phone. Be sure to change guardians every 30 minutes so each water guardian is alert and refreshed.
Secure Your Home Regardless of Your Child’s Age
While practicing water safety at the beach or pool is absolutely crucial, it’s just as important to practice water safety at home. Be aware of household drowning hazards, like bathtubs, buckets of water and toilet bowls, and make sure to install four-sided fences with safety latches around backyard pools to prevent accidental falls into the water. You may also want to consider installing a pool alarm to alert adults of any unwanted opening doors and gates. Never store flotation devices or pool toys in the water as children may accidentally fall in trying to reach for them, and always be sure to drain kiddie pools and store them upside down when they're not in use so they don’t collect water.
Build Neighborhood Support
Another thing Dr. Molly suggests to families raising autistic children is to connect with their neighbors about specific challenges and concerns. Ask your neighbors if they would be willing to put safety measures in place as well, such as a pool gate that locks, and make sure they know to reach out to you if they see your child outside alone. Letting your neighbors know that your child might wander, and giving them permission to act, can go a long way in keeping your child safe.
SWIM LESSONS TO HELP ALL KIDS REACH THEIR HIGHEST POTENTIAL
Created by parents, for parents, Goldfish Swim School was started with one goal in mind: giving kids the platform to build valuable life skills that will help them make waves in life. So, we created an inviting, safe and shiver-free place where kids of all abilities can push past their comfort zone, develop the courage to dive into new experiences, learn to swim, and have lots of fun while doing it!
At Goldfish Swim School, we truly believe every child can learn to swim. Using The Science of SwimPlay®, our research-based approach to play-based learning, our specially trained instructors use integrity, compassion and trust to educate children about water safety while teaching them how to swim, and celebrate their students’ progress every step of the way.
Have questions or want to learn more about our swim lessons? We would love to meet your family, and welcome you to reach out to a Goldfish Swim School near you.
Each Goldfish Swim School is independently owned and operated. Please check with your local Goldfish for more information on their lesson offerings and schedules.
Learn more about Alijah’s Awareness and keep up with their efforts to raise awareness and provide knowledge and support to parents of autistic children on Instagram.