Rehab center to distribute free ‘anti-drowning’ kits to families with children who have autism

‘In children with autism, the incidence of drowning is 160 times higher,’ doctor says

The risk of drowning is multiplied for children on the autism spectrum. A local rehab center will hand out anti-drowning kits with the hope of saving lives.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – In the state of Florida, drowning remains a leading cause of death in young children, but for kids with special needs, the risk goes up. Dr. Jon Edenfield and his staff at Great Strides Rehabilitation work with children on the autism spectrum.

“Specifically, in children with autism, the incidence of drowning is 160 times higher than in children without autism,” Edenfield said.

That’s why the staff is putting together a game plan. Starting Thursday, families of children with autism can reserve a specialized “anti-drowning” kit aimed to save lives. The staff wants to emphasize children with autism are naturally drawn to water. Edenfield gave News4JAX a look at the kits. They start with stick-on door alarms.

“If a child leaves, a loud alarm will go off and can alert the parent that they need to find out where that kid is immediately,” Edenfield said.

The kits also come with tips to keep your kids safe at home. It discusses facts about water safety and drowning, and emphasizes the importance of barriers, fences, and alarms to block water access.

The kit also comes with the “water watcher” lanyard. It’s worn by adults designated to keep an eye on the kids.

“If they’re going to leave the area, they need to hand it over to the next person,” Edenfield said.

Research shows drownings can happen at pool parties and social gatherings involving water when adults inadvertently become distracted due to so much happening at one time.

“Everybody is busy, and everybody thinks someone else is watching the kids and it only takes a second for a child to drown,” Edenfield said.

The center is also starting a life jacket loaner program. It contains several youth sizes to fit all children. If your organization is having a water event, you can rent them. You can also ask about pool alarms the center will raffle off.

“They go in the pool and then if the child falls in, it will sound an alarm,” Edenfield said.

Edenfield said this issue is close to his staff’s hearts.

“Unfortunately, we’ve been touched firsthand by some families who have experienced children who have drowned or nearly drowned,” Edenfield said. “That’s really what caused us to want to put this initiative together.

“They also wander or what we call ‘elope’ at a higher frequency than other children,” Edenfield said. “It’s not necessarily that their parents were not supervising them. It can happen very quickly.”

Edenfield also said the center is also in the process of teaming up with H2 Health to launch swimming lessons that are therapist-guided.

To reserve an anti-drowning kit, families can call 904-886-3228. Pick-up locations are listed on the Great Strides Rehab website.

For more information or to donate to the Great Strides Special Needs Opportunity Fund, visit their website.

About the Author:

Ashley Harding joined the Channel 4 news team in March 2013. She reports for and anchors The Morning Show.