Did you know that drowning is the leading cause of death among children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)? It’s sad but true. In fact, according to the National Autism Association, accidental drowning accounted for approximately 90% of total deaths reported in autistic children aged 14 and younger between the years of in 2009 to 2011.

Here’s just one tragic recent example:

On July 7, 2017, 8-year-old Shalom Johnson went missing from his home in Brownsburg, Indiana. A desperate search ensued as soon as his parents noticed that he was missing. Family members, neighbors, the Brownsburg Police Department and the FBI spent nearly 24 hours searching for Shalom. The following day, he was found dead in a pond near his house.

Thousands of children go missing every day. But, Shalom’s story circulated through news outlets and sparked a national outcry. So, what was different about his story? Shalom’s story shed light on children with autism and their elevated risk for drowning.

Facts and Statistics About ASD

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communicative and behavioral challenges
  • Research has shown that the mortality risk among the autistic population is twice as high as the general population.
  • Elevated deaths in autism are attributed to several causes, including seizures and accidents such as suffocation.

Why Are Children with Autism More Prone to Accidental Drowning?

According to researchers, almost half of unintentional injury deaths for those with autism occurred by drowning. Children with autism who wander off are often referred to as “elopers ”. This is when a child runs away from their safe environment. Nearly half of children with ASD attempt to elope, a rate four times higher than unaffected children. While there are a wide variety of reasons for a child to “elope,’ their desire to explore and wander is often a factor. Elopers are especially drawn to the water, like in Shalom’s case. However, they are unaware of the consequences and risk associated with entering the water.

There is also a shortage of specialized services for children with ASD. Swimming teachers have to take additional training in order to instruct “special needs” children. Swimming centers must be specially equipped with support, training, and resources to teach children with ASD to swim.

There is also a lack of awareness about children with autism and elopement. Data claims that only 50% of parents of children with ASD have received information about wandering and elopement.

Help Keep Children Safe: 

  • Direction and active supervision can prevent wandering or elopement.
  • Equip your home with window and door locks.
  • Add an alarm to all doors that lead outside.
  • If you have a pool, install a removable mesh pool fence with a self-latching, self closing pool gate.
  • Create signs that say “STOP!” at all of the exits in your home.
  • Find a swim instructor that specializes in ASD swimming lessons.