Summer is a great time for kids: School’s out, the weather’s great and days are long and lazy.

Unfortunately, summer also can be dangerous time, especially for children with intellectual and developmental disabilities. We’ve all heard stories about a developmentally disabled child who wandered away and suffered an injury or met with danger. Of particular concern in the summer time is drowning – a danger Central Indiana knows only too well, having seen headlines in recent years about children with autism who died in retention ponds.

Statistics tell us that the headlines aren’t overstating the danger. In fact, a 2017 study showed that children with autism drown 160 times more frequently than their peers.

Why this high level of danger? For one thing, children with autism often are fascinated by water and drawn to it even though they might not understand the danger it presents. In addition, even children who know the dangers of water might not have the self-control to avoid danger or the ability to get to safety after they are, literally, in over their heads.

Add to these concerns the fact that many children with autism and other intellectual disabilities are prone to wander, and you’ve got a truly life-threatening scenario.

So, what can you do? Here are some tips:

  • Find the water. Always know where water is around your child. Be aware of pools, retention ponds and other water in your neighborhood. If you’re visiting someone, know where those dangers are in that neighborhood, and make sure your child is not able to get to any water without supervision. And remember: It only takes a few inches of water to be dangerous. A bucket of water in a backyard could be a tragedy waiting to happen
  • Introduce them to water. Swim lessons or even just time in the water can be instructive, helping a child to understand how to handle himself or herself … and also let you see if your child has an inordinate fascination with water.
  • Explain the dangers. Even if your child is able to swim, he or she might not understand how dangerous water can be. Help them understand their limits and teach them to avoid risky situations.
  • Keep them contained. If your child goes out to play, make sure he or she is in an enclosed area or watched closely by an adult. And be aware that children can be particularly innovative when it comes to opening locked doors, getting over fences and escaping from enclosures. Never assume a locked door or latched gate is enough to keep a child safe.
  • Spread the word. Tell other adults about the dangers for your child so they are vigilant and know to let you know if they see your child wandering.
  • Get a Project Lifesaver wristband. When a child wanders (especially toward water), every second counts. That’s why Damar Services has teamed up with area firefighters to encourage parents of children with autism and other intellectual disabilities to get Project Lifesaver wristbands, which help first responders quickly find children who wander off. Learn more about our #IndyBandsTogether Mission.

Summer should be a time of relaxation for kids and caregivers. Follow these tips and you’ll not only ensure that your child is safe but that you can have the peace of mind you need to enjoy your summer, too.

About the Author

Kristin McCoy

Director, ABA Services

As the director of ABA Services, Kristin McCoy leads assessment and treatment for children with autism through Applied Behavior Analysis. Kristin has been instrumental in helping shape Damar’s autism services. She holds a bachelor’s degree from DePauw University and a master’s degree from Nova Southeastern University, as well as her Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) distinction.

Tips for Summer Safety: In addition to paying attention to the summer dangers unique to children with intellectual and developmental disabilities, parents also need to be aware of the dangers faced by all kids during the summer months. Following are some top concerns and safety tips for kids of all abilities, assembled by the Consumer Federation of America and SafeChild.net:

  • Poison watch. Poisons range from dangerous plants to household cleaning products. Keep the National Poison Hotline by your phone: 1-800-222-1222.
  • Noggin protection. Make helmets standard for biking, skateboarding or riding scooters.
  • Car safety. Buckle up, be especially careful when backing up, never leave a child unattended in a car, and be aware that dozens of children die each year in hot cars.
  • Playground perils. Falls cause 80 percent of all injuries.
  • Too much sun. Use sunscreen, and be aware that some medications make children more susceptible to sunburn.
  • Bugs and things. This isn’t just about itchy bites … it’s also about serious conditions such as West Nile Virus, Lyme disease or allergic reactions. Dress children in long sleeves and pants and light colors when feasible, and use insect repellent that contains DEET placed on their clothing.
  • Around the house. Help your child know what to do if injured or if there is an emergency.
  • In a storm. Every year about 100 people are killed by lightning. Don’t underestimate the dangers of storm. Take your child to a safe place when weather turns bad.
  • On the water. Never take your child onto a boat, dock or pier without a life jacket.