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Drowning Prevention

Drowning is the #1 cause of death in autism and Florida leads the way in child drownings resulting in death. Kids with ASD are 160 times more likely to experience nonfatal and fatal drowning than their neurotypical peers.

The Autism Society of Florida provides swim lesson scholarships that help to save lives. Training in autism is provided to water safety instructors to prepare them for teaching necessary skills to children and adults with autism. 

Children must learn how to swim as early as possible to stay alive. Find out how you can help impact this devastating statistic by contacting us at


"Drawn to Water" was produced for the Autism Society of Florida 

by Zachary Hoaglund. This video brings attention to this

very serious issue for children with autism. 

ASF Swim Scholarship info for families in need below - scroll down.


ASF is a Member of Drowning Prevention Task Forces in Florida

•   Water Smart Florida

•   Broward County Drowning Prevention Task Force

•   Team of Excellence (TOE) Drowning Prevention Task Force

Swim Lesson Tips • Click for printable PDF



  • Florida has the highest number of drownings in the United States.

  • In 2018, there were 88 drowning deaths of children age 3 and younger in Florida. 

  • Of the 88 fatal drownings, most were a result of the child wandering, eloping, or missing from a caregiver – all factors that impact autism every day.

  • According to the Dept of Health and CDC, most children who drown are between ages 1 and 4 (76% in 2018 were children 3 and under) The CDC average age of ASD diagnosis is age 4.5. Strong likelihood that the number of young children who drown are children who would have been later diagnosed with an ASD since kids with autism have a tendency to elope or wander, have little regard for safety and are naturally attracted to the water.

  • Children with an ASD are 160 times more likely to experience nonfatal and fatal drowning than their neurotypical peers.

  • 50% of children with autism wander – nearly all gravitate towards water.

  • African-American children between the ages of 5 and 19 are 6 times more likely to drown in a pool than white children the same age.

  • 32% of parents of kids with ASD report that they have had a “close call” of drowning for their child.

Keeping Your Children Safe

Swim lessons are a must. Contact local pools,

YMCAs, and CARD (Centers for Autism and Related Disabilities) for information on where to find swimming lessons in your area.

Start with sensory integration. Ease your child into a water experience, don’t rush it. Allow them to put their feet in from the side of the pool, hang out on the steps, gradually move into deeper waters while you spend countless hours in the pool yourself so that you can be part of the process to their comfort and success.

Seek out a pool that matches your child’s learning style. If your child is easily distracted by others, sign them up for a class during an off-time when there won’t be many other swimmers in the pool. When there are others in the pool, turn their body away from the others to reduce visual stimulation. None of us learn best when we’re distracted.

Engage before swimming lessons begin. Take your child for a tour of the pool where they’ll be taking lessons. This will give them a chance to get used to the sights, smells, and sounds that they’ll be experiencing as part of this process.


Create visuals of the steps to be expected in the pool, and instructions on swimming. Be sure to laminate these so that they can be brought into the water. Video modeling is a fabulous way to present an introduction to swimming. If you can’t find one, create one with your smartphone, using a sibling or friend as your “actor”.

Be consistent in the instruction. Review previously taught skills at every lesson to ensure maintenance.

Create water rules. Kids and adults with autism tend to like rules since they give them clearly defined boundaries and expectations.

These can include:

  • NEVER swim without an adult with you

  • ALWAYS tell an adult where you are going

  • No diving

  • No swimming alone

Take steps to prevent wandering. Place alarms or chimes on doors, always be sure to lock access points around pools, and place “Stop” signs on all doors and windows leading to the outside.

Consider a locating device. Check with your local police department to find out which ones are active in your area.

Alert Your Neighbors. Spend time introducing your child to those who live in your neighborhood. Knowing your neighbors can help reduce the risks associated with wandering and reduce the need for emergency professionals.

Visit Local Authorities. Set up a visit to the police department during a NON-EMERGENCY time so that your child will get to meet those who serve and protect AND give the officers the opportunity to learn about autism and ways that they can help prevent tragedy.

Autism Society of Florida

Water Safety Scholarship for Families in Need

Who qualifies for a scholarship?

Applicants must meet the following criteria:

  • Scholarships are only available for youth up to age 10 who have been diagnosed with autism.

  • Scholarships are only available for residents of Florida.

  • Scholarships are only available for families that meet at least one of the following:

     - Participate in the Head Start program

     - Qualify for government-subsidized child daycare

     - Currently receive food stamps for the family 


Scholarships are only provided for swimming lessons from Red Cross certified water safety instructors.

How much is the scholarship for?

The scholarship amount is $150 per applicant with a maximum award of $300 per family. 


Application Process

  • All applicants must meet the age, resident, and income-assistance requirements listed above.

  • Complete the Swim Scholarship Application form below.

  • Email proof of the qualifying income-assistance service received.

    • Submit evidence of financial need by emailing paperwork to: (Acceptable file types are .jpg, .png, .gif, .tif, .pdf, .bmp, .doc and .docx) Include Parent/Guardian name and student name used on the application form below in your email.

    • Applications will be reviewed, and notifications provided within 10 days of receipt.

  • Once approved, ASF staff will notify the family via email or telephone with instructions for enrollment procedures. Scholarship approval does not guarantee swim lesson session availability; it is up to the family to enroll the child as quickly as possible to ensure the desired session is not full. Payment will be given directly to swim school, and not to individuals. 


(1) Submit Swim Scholarship Application below - All Fields are required

(2) Email proof of at least one of the income assistance programs listed below to:

  • Head Start program

  • Qualify for government-subsidized child daycare

  • Currently receive food stamps for the family

Include parent or guardian and student full name used on application in your email AND proof of swim school's Red Cross certification - they can provide this to you.

Swim Scholarship Application

We'll be in touch!

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