Swim Safely Tampa Bay

In Tampa Bay, we have the luxury of living around the water. However, we must do our part to keep our families safe as we spend more time at home with curious young ones, idle teens and individuals with disabilities, such as autism, who are at greater risk. These circumstances increase the need for water safety awareness and water watcher vigilance. Pools, lakes and the Gulf all present risks for drownings.

The Center for Autism and Related Disabilities at the University of South Florida (CARD-USF) serves individuals with an autism spectrum disorder of all ages, their families, and the community. CARD-USF covers 14 counties in southwest Florida and all services and resources are offered at no charge. CARD provides resources and direct support with individuals and their families offered in person, virtually, and within the community. CARD also delivers trainings, outreach, and support for teachers, businesses, and community programs to enhance their ability to include individuals with ASD in their organizations and classrooms. In addition, CARD-USF creates innovative projects to reflect the needs and desires of the community we serve.

To learn more, visit www.usf.to/autism or contact us: Phone: 813-974-2532 and Email: card-usf@usf.edu

Tips and Detail for Children with Autism:

Individuals with ASD appear to be drawn to water. This places them at an increased risk for unintentional death and disability due to drowning. Unlike their typically-developing peers, this risk persists regardless of age. Experts are not sure why this fascination exists, but caution caregivers and professionals to be extremely vigilant around any body of water and to proactively minimize certain risk factors for drowning when possible.

Drowning can start to occur in as little as 20 seconds and in less than 2 inches of water. Children can drown in as little as 1 inch of water. Prevent needless deaths.

  • Identify and be mindful of the bodies of water an individual with ASD is closest to (e.g. bath tub, neighbor’s pool, ponds, retention ditch).
  • Never have items near or in the pool to entice children to grab or reach.
  • Insure that individuals with ASD learn how to swim and that their swimming curriculum includes water safety and self-rescue skills.
  • Provide swimming rules and directions in a format that the individual with ASD can easily understand. Pictures; simple, concrete wording; and stories are some of the ways this could be accomplished.
  • Provide water safety barriers Lock doors and install pool screens and gates.
  • Install “isolation fencing” around pools. This can reduce a child’s mortality risk for drowning by 83%.
  • Install pool and door alarms.
  • When children are swimming, an adult should always be present. Make sure kids are actively supervised at all times by choosing a Water Watcher. A Water Watcher is a responsible adult who agrees to watch the kids in the water without distractions and wear a Water Watcher card. After a certain amount of time (such as 15-minutes), the Water Watcher card is passed to another adult, who is responsible for the active supervision.
  • Use life jackets that are a good fit for the individual with ASD given their height and weight. Inflatable arm floaties, pool noodles, etc. cannot be substituted for a life jacket.

Ask The Experts: Water Safety Tips from CARD

Here are some helpful links to resources that can help you keep your children safe around water:

Safety resources supporting individuals with ASD can be found on CARD’s website

Catch a wave with CARD! A fun bookmark to download with water safety tips

CARD’s Autism Spectrum Disorder & Water Safety Guide for caregivers and water safety professionals to meet the needs of individuals with ASD.

Autism & Safety - Top Safety Tips: Your safety begins with these 12 Safety Tips and a call to CARD-USF at (813) 974-2532

Josh the Otter & Layers of Protection

Josh the Otter & Kids Activities

Download official “Water Watcher” tags:

Water Safety for Families with Children with Special Needs (video from Safe Kids Worldwide)

Safety Tips from Pool Safely

Pool Safely collaborators and water safety advocates share tips for safer summer swimming in our Ask The Experts series

Swim Safely Tampa Bay is proudly sponsored by:

And be sure to follow CARD USF on social media:

Facebook @cardusf

Twitter @cardusf

Instagram @card_usf

YouTube CARD USF


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