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Tuesday, July 4, 2017
Swimming against the current to prevent tragedy
Kathleen O'Grady Managing Editor EvidenceNetwork.ca
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Que./Troy Media/ - Summer is almost upon us, so the other day I spent
$418 on 11 half-hour swimming lessons for my nine-year-old son at the local rec
son has autism, the most commonly diagnosed neurodevelopmental
disorder in Canada. He's not able to take regular swim classes, which cost a
fraction of the price.
environment is too stimulating. He gets distracted by the playful reflection of
light off the water, by the high ceilings that catch the children's voices in
booming echoes and the ceiling fans, which are endlessly swirly. With all this
sensory input, he can't easily focus on what the swim instructor is saying. He
also doesn't always understand the social dynamic or verbal instructions of a
hypersensitivity to his environment, along with processing delays in verbal and
social communication, are common
hallmarks of autism. The
upshot: he requires private swimming lessons - something that costs me in the
neighbourhood of $1,200 annually. But it's well worth it.
A new American
study has confirmed what every autism family has heard anecdotally:
accidental death by drowning is a significant risk for kids with autism.
Researchers at the Center for Injury Epidemiology and Prevention at Columbia
University looked at more than 39 million death records over 16 years (up to
2014) to determine the relationship between autism and death by
results are pretty bleak. Overall, individuals with autism died on average
almost 36 years younger than the general population. Almost 28 per cent died
prematurely by injury, which includes complications from epileptic seizures and
suicide (both epilepsy and depression are common in this population).
to the study, individuals with autism also die by accidental injury at a rate
three times higher than the general population. The rate was particularly high
for children younger than 15 years of age.
According to the researchers, almost half (46
per cent) of unintentional injury deaths for those with autism occurred by
drowning - and the "danger years" are between ages five to
compared with typically developing peers, researchers found that children with
autism drown 160 times
more frequently - an
news is that something can be done. These are preventable deaths. And public
health officials should put concrete and actionable ways to prevent accidental
drowning in this specific population at the top of their to-do
solution is obvious - and cheap as chips.
accessible water safety courses and swimming lessons tailored to those with
autism would be cost-effective to implement and have almost immediate impact.
Such programming would have the double bonus of providing both safety and
recreational benefits for autism families.
with and adequately funding organizations like SwimAbility, a volunteer-run swim program for those with
developmental disabilities (which operates on a shoestring budget and always has
more demand than it can meet), could be a good place to start.
and awareness of water danger risks targeted at the caregivers for this
population should also be a priority. Providing funds to help families and
schools put physical safety measures in place - gates and specialized locks, for
example - would also help.
of the conversation also has to be about the lack of adequate supports for families caring for autistic
children experienced across the country.
challenge of caring for a young child with autism is their tendency to wander - a common characteristic for around
half of those on the spectrum. They're also often attracted to water as a
pleasing visual sensory stimulus. And they're more likely to have irregular sleep patterns, which means they may wake and
wander while the rest of the family is sleeping.
funds for regular respite for caretakers and give autism moms and dads a needed
other population had as much as 160 times greater risk for a preventable death,
you could be sure it would garner headlines and immediate public health
health and children's ministries should work together to find solutions. Kids
with autism are already vulnerable on so many fronts. Let's work together to
avoid unnecessary tragedy. Let's all have a safe and water-friendly
O'Grady is a research associate at the Simone de Beauvoir Institute, Concordia
University, Montréal, and managing editor of EvidenceNetwork.ca. She's the mother of two boys, one with