Teaching water safety for children with autism

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DENVER -- Saturday was World Autism Awareness Day and YMCA of Metro Denver is helping bring awareness to a major issue facing people with autism: Water safety.

Drowning is among the leading causes of death for individuals with autism, but a special program through the YMCA is helping them develop a better relationship with water.

Brendan Bradley can’t believe how far he has come since enrolling in the YMCA Autism Respite Program.

“I used to have a deathly fear, a very, very deathly fear of water,” said Bradley, an 11-year-old with autism. “Like the second I got under water I would just run back to shore and just stay there for a little bit.”

For other kids on the spectrum fear isn’t a factor, which can be an even bigger issue. Drowning deaths are an all too common occurrence, which is what makes the program even more important.

“Excruciatingly important, especially with this population, to be self aware and know that they do need to be safe around the water,” said Claire Eades with the YMCA. “And have mechanisms to keep themselves safe.”

The program begins out of the pool with fun activities that focus on motor skills.

“If they want to stay (out of the water) and keep doing puzzles in here they are more than welcome to,” Eades said. “Most kiddos as you’ve seen are pretty enthusiastic about getting to the pool pretty quick.”

After a short time, Jeri Sanchez, grandmother of 5-year-old Ransom Bradberry, also shared the enthusiasm for the program despite her own concerns about his safety in water.

“It’s been OK because it is safe and I don’t have to worry at all about him,” Sanchez said.

The program is as fun as it is safe, thanks to one-on-one support and sensory therapy in and out of the water.

“They go from just kind of floating wherever we tell them to, to where they will actually paddle to the side and direct themselves in the water,” Eades said. “Which is a huge improvement that we’ve seen.”

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