Safety advocate offers advice after recent drowning deaths involving children with autism

More than a week ago, a missing 6-year-old with autism was found dead in a body of water in Hillsborough County. And in the Panhandle on Tuesday, another young child with autism was found dead in a lake.

These tragedies are a reminder that kids with autism spectrum disorder face a higher risk of drowning.

Children with autism tend to wander off, or "elope," which is the clinical term. This, paired with a natural attraction to water and a lack of awareness of danger, puts them at a higher risk.

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"Many of the drownings in our data shows that it's when a child is getting out of the home undetected, so they're slipping out of doors or going out a window," said Christine Rover, the Assistant Program Director at the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD) at the University of South Florida. "They're around the pool or maybe there's not an adult out with them."

Rover says door alarms, extra locks, and pool gates are simple physical barriers. Reinforcing important messages with your children, like "never swimming alone", is also key, but it's paramount to reinforce messages with adults around you as well.

"You may have your pool secured or you may have alarms on your sliding glass doors, but making sure your neighbors or grandparents where you're visiting that they also have those additional layers of protection," said Rover.

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Some law enforcement agencies have programs that offer wristbands with radio frequency so they can track people with autism after they wander away from home. The center can provide the actual bracelets to a family if they, or the county, doesn't have the funds.

"It can happen to anyone, and we want to prevent this tragedy from happening to one more child. One more family," said Rover.

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Enrolling kids in swim lessons and learning CPR yourself can be lifesaving as well.

Drowning is the number one cause of death in autism and kids with ASD are 160 times more likely to drown than their neurotypical peers.