Apr 052012

Summer is an extremely dangerous time for Arizona children around water, especially in swimming pools.

Drowning is the leading cause of death for children between 1 and 4 years old in the state, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. It’s an alarming statistic, but should be even more alarming to parents of autistic children.

“If (autistic children) are seeking sensory input from water, that’s particularly dangerous at this time of year,” said Christopher J. Smith of the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center in Phoenix.

Smith said autistic children are more likely to gravitate towards things that make them feel good, and water can be especially inviting.

Smith said the number of children diagnosed with autism is climbing rapidly.

“We went from one in roughly 100 to one in 88,” he said.

“We always operate under the assumption that there are many kids that are being missed,” he said.

Which means many parents might not realize the added danger their child could face around water, he said.

“I think it’s particularly dangerous for kids with autism because they may be less inhibited than other kids and they’ll have no problem going to seek something they’re interested in, even if it’s in a neighbor’s back yard,” Smith said.

Elisa Cazares-Hart wishes she had been aware of that potential danger sooner. Her autistic son, Eric, was just 2 when he drowned in a backyard pool.

“I told (Smith) it was an accidental drowning. He says well, unfortunately, autistic kids and adults are drawn to water.”

Cazares-Hart said that it took her a while to understand the attraction.

“For a while I didn’t really understand it because it was raining, it was cold – what attracted him?” she said.

Smith said educating parents of autistic children is key.

“If a gate is left open they can see a way into a pool, they’re probably going to go for it more so than any typically developing kid,” Smith said.

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