• Erika Gleeson

Aquatic Fun & Safety for All

Children with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) are 160(!!!) times more likely to drown than their peers.


As a Senior Behaviour Specialist working with people on the Autism Spectrum I was shocked by this statistic. For many years I was a consultant, working around Australia with individuals who had intellectual disabilities, severe behavioural challenges (including physical and sexual aggression and self injurious behaviour), and other unique needs. Individuals who were also authentically themselves, uncorrupted by the world and a real pleasure to work with. I became desperate for my clients to engage in aquatic services and mitigate the substantial risk they faced but the local swim centres were not prepared to take them due to their needs. A vicious circle if ever there was one! My solution - offer pro bono training, resources and support to do my best towards bringing this dire statistic down. The need for this service became immediately apparent and Autism Swim was born. After only a week of digitising my content, Autism Swim expanded into Malaysia. Five years later, Autism Swim is operating in 15 countries, but there’s still a huge amount of work to do.

Erika and her legendary friend Paddy

In 2021, it just doesn’t seem right that individuals with a disability can be turned away from swimming lessons simply due to their needs, but that’s the devastating reality and contributes to their untenable risk of drowning. On top of a lack of suitable opportunities to learn new skills, some of the other reasons for the disproportionate statistics include:


1. Over 50% of those on the autism spectrum ‘wander’, often gravitating toward bodies of water. Wandering is also very common in those with dementia.

2. Many on the autism spectrum have a decreased ability to perceive risk and danger.

3. If these individuals are engaging in aquatic services, their goals are often not being met as they are not taught in ways conducive to their needs (one size does not fit all – specialised training is required to successfully teach people with autism how to swim).

4. Those on the autism spectrum are at an increased risk of seizure activity, which can happen in the water.

5. Most people in our community don’t know just how massive the increased risk is of someone with autism drowning – UNTIL NOW.


Autism Swim is the ONLY organisation in the world dedicated to this issue, to ensuring aquatic safety for all. We’re a small team driven by insatiable passion, and offer:

- A certification package (training, resources and support) to aquatic professionals such as learn to swim teachers and aquatic therapists. Soon to include surfing instructors.

- An award-winning modified nippers and surf education program named Dippers, now growing at a rapid rate.

- Wandering and Drowning Prevention Support to parents

- A free water safety App for those with other abilities.


To find out more about Autism Swim, to find your local Autism Swim Approved provider or to sign up to become certified, visit www.autismswim.com.au

To donate visit www.autismswim.com.au/support-us/

For surf lifesaving clubs wishing to discuss the running of an inclusive nippers program, please contact Kat at partnerships@autismswim.com.au

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