Being water safe means taking the proper precautions in the home as well as around pools and open water. Water safety is important for any family, but this is especially true of families that have kids with special needs. Fun in the water starts with finding the right life jacket. Children in wheelchairs know that getting out of the chair for water therapy is a good time, as well as good for their health. Since a regular, coast guard approved life jacket may not meet all the needs of a special needs child, an adaptive life jacket that is more supportive and comfortable may need to be used. There are multiple designs for children with unique needs, so a child might need to try on several types of adaptive life jackets to find the best one. For children who are unable to swim independently, parents or a caregiver should always be within arms’ reach, even though the child is wearing a life jacket. This applies to any body of water, whether it is a neighbor’s pool, a lake, the community pool, or at the beach.
Some children with cognitive disorders are drawn to water and have a difficult time understanding that water can be dangerous. This can make it difficult to remain safe around any type of water. Parents and caregivers of children with cognitive disorders also should be within arms reach when these children are near water, including bathtubs, toilets, pools and hot tubs. In order to ensure that the home environment is as safe, the water should be drained as soon as possible after a bath, locks should be placed on toilet lids, and all buckets of water and wading pools should be emptied after use. Children with cognitive disabilities should always wear life jackets when playing near a pool, lake, river or any body of water, and basic principles of water safety should be explained to the children on a regular basis. These children must be reminded to never go in or near the water without an adult. One way to familiarize children with the water and get them comfortable with swimming is to take adaptive aquatics classes as a family. These classes can be especially useful for children with cognitive disorders and will teach the families how to work one on one with their children, helping them adjust to water and learn important swimming skills and general water safety skills. Parents can sign up for classes through local parks and recreations divisions or the local YMCA.
In summary, the steps for water safety include the following:
- Find the right life jacket for your child’s needs. This may include choosing an adaptive life jacket or a standard type 1 or type 2 life jacket. One type of adaptive life jacket provides vertical orientation in water to keep the head and face out of the water. A type 1 life jacket is designed for survival in rough, open water, and a type 2 life jacket is the classic type, designed for calm water.
- Always keep children within arms’ reach while in or near the water. This includes bathtubs, toilets, hot tubs, pools and open water.
- Take adaptive aquatics classes together as a family to learn swim skills and reinforce general water safety principles.
For any family, water safety measures are essential for ensuring a safe home. For children with special needs, this is especially important for a safe and fun summer.