Child with Autism and Swimming – Part two
5 mins read

Child with Autism and Swimming – Part two

In my last blog, I discussed swimming experiences for autistic children and I brought up the possibility that your autistic child may feel the water is a bit too comforting and why they may feel that way. I also discussed some precautions you should consider when your autistic child swims and some options you have for swimming lessons.

However, I only discussed swimming in a swimming pool and not other options for swimming.

What are other locations for swimming?

There are ponds, lakes, and oceans.

When it comes to swimming in the ocean, my son has had experience the last two summers. And, here, I will discuss some ocean precautions.

Our family vacationed in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina during the last two summers. We had stayed in a house that was right on the ocean, and we spent part of each day on the beach and in the water.

This last summer, my child decided he always wanted to have one of boogie boards with him when he was in the water. He never actually used the boogie board the way it’s supposed to be used. But, he had he own reason for wanting to hang onto it. My guess is that he wanted the comfort of hanging onto the board while he trying to tackle something as large as an ocean.

Were there any swimming-related issues?

There was the day of the very strong current.

On public beaches, lifeguard stations will sometimes indicate the strength of the day’s water current. Our beach used flags, and one day the flag was red, which meant a very strong current.

On this red flag day, just after we set up our umbrella and blankets, I watched my child go into the water (with his boogie board) and end up well down the beach within about ten minutes. The current was that strong.

What happened?

My child didn’t understand ocean currents.

I tracked him down and got him out of the water. We walked back to the area that was just in front of our umbrella and blanket. Then, I proceeded to explain the meaning of the red flag and ocean currents. I explained that strong ocean currents will push you down a beach and you may not even realize how far you’ve traveled. That’s what strong currents will do.

I pointed to our house rental and asked him to do his best to keep the house and our umbrella/blanket setup in front of him. I told him that when he went back into the water, he would have to look back at the beach a lot to make sure he could still see the house or our setup.

Should we keep our child out of the water during strong currents?

Your choice. We didn’t, though.

I was never that worried about my child because I knew that when he swam in the ocean he not only clung to that boogie board but he never went that far out into the water. He would never go farther than waist high. Remember, he’s a cautious child.

However, rules should still be established for any kind of swimming experience:

  • What is your child’s swimming behavior?
  • Do they know when they may be getting close to bad and/or dangerous swimming behavior?
  • How far can your child go into the water and how far should your child go?
  • What are the swimming conditions like?
  • Is your child being safe in and out of the water?
  • Do they understand strong ocean currents?
  • Do they know where your setup is or where you’re staying? Which means, do they know where you are in case they get distracted or disoriented?


Our beach was very crowded. The location where we were is a summer vacation hot spot.

Whenever we were on the beach, I made sure my child could always make his own way back to our umbrella and blanket, or back to our house. We made it easier on him by consistently setting up our spot in approximately the same place every day.

Additionally, I often sent him back to the house on his own so he knew how to do by himself. I would call ahead to someone in the house (since we had 13 people in the house, there was always someone there) to make sure he made it. He always did.

Swimming for our kids is an excellent activity for OT regulation or just for fun.

I would recommend you establish rules for safe swimming and stick to those rules. You should always emphasize water safety at all times! With solid water safety in place, you and your child can have a terrific time with any water activity.

To Find Kimberly Kaplan: or Amazon Kindle ebook “A Parents’ Guide to Early Autism Intervention”
Twitter: @tipsautismmom

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