Autism, Elopement, and Water Safety Strategies

The problem our community faces regarding elopement and water safety issues needs a multi-pronged approach. In October 2017, we completed a survey and offered two community meetings. One meeting was attended by representatives from major partner advocacy organizations: ARC of Indiana, About Special Kids, Family Voices, Special Olympics. Some solutions are being worked on by advocacy organizations and will be longer-term than others. We are providing the following ideas/resources so that families can be aware of various programs that exist today to help with this serious issue.


Your Child:

Talk with your child’s waiver Case Manager about using Recreational Therapy, Community-Based Habilitation Individual (CHIO), PAC time to fund someone to teach your child water safety skills. A partner agency is contacting Medicaid about educating Case Managers better with regard to this.

Report to Medicaid’s Bureau of Quality Improvement Services if there is a lack of waiver providers in your area who can do this, or if the quality of providers is not to your satisfaction.1-866-296-8322,

Learning water safety skills is something all children should know. Check the Adaptive Swim/Aquatic Therapy/Water Safety list on this web site to see if there is a provider near you. Ask them about scholarships and financial aid for their services. They can apply for a grant to offer their services free (see list for details).

Ask your local Fire Department about a tracking device – some counties provide this free of charge. Consider applying for a grant if not.

Ask your insurance company if they will pay for your child to acquire water safety skills. Read this article on Medical Necessity to see how. This is a life and death issue, not an education one. Don’t use the term “swim lessons”.

Consider a GPS device for your child – there are shoelaces with this technology, alarms, fitness-type bands, etc.

Research Water Safety on sites such as Safe Kids Worldwide.

Learn how to teach your child water safety skills through a Red Cross Water Safety Instructor or online tutorials such as Water Safety Skills for Children. Involve siblings as appropriate to increase their knowledge of water safety with their sibling with autism.


Your Family:

Educate your extended family members about your child’s elopement issues.

Designate a full-time person to your child’s supervision during family gatherings where the location and routine are unfamiliar, i.e. where you won’t have access to the safeguards at your home.

Consider getting CPR training in case a loved one is rescued from water.


Your Neighborhood:

Your neighbors want to avoid a tragedy. Use NextDoor or neighborhood Facebook page to communicate to your neighbors that you have a child with autism, prepare them with an action plan for what to do if he/she is missing, particularly if your neighborhood has a retention pond.


Your Community: 

Ask your Police Department if they have a Special Needs 911 Registry so that they are alerted to your child’s needs if there is a call from your home. If they say no over the phone, go in person. The technology exists for them to do this.

Attend all Safety/Touch a Truck/Trunk or Treat events in your community to acquaint your child with various First Responder programs.

Ask your school district to provide swim instruction to school students at the high school pool. Ask if your child can earn a PE credit to do this.

Ask your local YMCA to provide pool time free of charge so your waiver provider can work with your child there. If not, consider applying for a grant to pay for swim time.

Ask what your community is doing to observe National Water Safety Month (May)

Fight for detention ponds (larger areas of grass that do not fill with water) instead of retention ponds with your local government. If retention ponds are necessary, fight for more sloping sides so the depth progression is more gradual.

Fight to have retention ponds fenced in at the county/municipal level. This is not an issue that can be solved at the state level at this time.

Join your local city/county council to bring about change.



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