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A study finds children with autism are drowning in Florida at an 'astounding' rate

About 120 kids came to the Del Rio Pool in Tampa to learn about water safety for the "World's Largest Swim Lesson." Around thirty community pools across the Bay area participated in the global event.
Meghan Bowman
/
WUSF Public Media
About 120 kids came to the Del Rio Pool in Tampa to learn about water safety for the "World's Largest Swim Lesson." Around thirty community pools across the Bay area participated in the global event.

A six-year-old girl with autism drowned in Brandon after wandering away from her family home on Sunday, the Tampa Bay Times reports.

According to a new study by the Children's Service Council of Palm Beach County, the number of children with autism drowning in Florida is rising.

Between January 2012 and April 2024, 109 children with autism drowned, said the council's Jon Burstein.

He added that another 12 children have drowned since the study concluded.

The numbers have been growing year to year. In 2020, four children with autism drowned — that ballooned to 23 in 2021. Another 63 children have drowned since 2021.

Burstein said the growth could be due to increased autism awareness.

"The average age of children drowning with autism is 3 years old," Burstein said, "What's happened, especially within the last decade, autism has been identified earlier and earlier with children, so there's greater identification early on."

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in 36 children have been identified with autism spectrum disorder.
RELATED: Parents, how much do you know about kids' water safety?

He added children with autism are prone to drowning because of their tendency to wander away from caregivers.

"That means getting out of the house or getting away from them in a public place," Burstein said. "There is also an attraction to water. Some say it might be related to sensory deprivation, some say it might be related to good memories related to the water."

He adds there is still no definitive reason for why this attraction exists.

Burstein said parents should take extra precautions if their child is diagnosed with autism.

"That means having door alarms and window alarms on your house," Burstein said. "If there's a babysitter or caretaker watching your child, make sure that they're aware of this tendency to wander."

He adds that if your child is missing, call 911 immediately.

And it's also important to stay off your cell phones when caring for a child with autism.

"Parents, teenagers, everybody, we're so distracted by them," said Jack Scott, the executive director of the Florida Atlantic University Center for Autism and Related Disabilities. "If somebody's babysitting, and they're supposed to be paying attention to the child, chances are they're watching Tiktok."
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Aileyahu Shanes