Did you know that drowning is a common cause of death in autistic children? I first became intrigued by this fact after doing an analysis of cause of death for brain donors to the Autism Tissue Program (ATP). Back then in 2007 there were only 35 donations to the ATP brain bank of which 11 were drowning victims (see previous blog on “Inflammation and Autism“). According to a survey by the National Autism Association (NAA) approximately 32% of interviewed parents report a “close call” with a possible drowning (http://nationalautismassociation.org/resources/autism-safety-facts/). Overall, accidental injuries in autism are three times as common as in the neurotypical population. When death occurs as a result of accidental injury, almost half of the cases (46%) are due to drowning (https://www.cnn.com/2017/03/21/health/autism-injury-deaths-study/). The statistics are astounding, when compared to neurotypicals, autsitic children are 169 times more likely to drown (https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/kathleen-oagrady/autism-drowning-deaths_b_17017768.html).
The good news to these bleak statistics is that the number of drowning victims represent preventable deaths. It is for this reason that I would like to bring to the attention of the reader an updated policy statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), “Prevention of Drowning”. This policy statement was released on March 15, 2019. A technical report is anticipated to be published later in 2019.
1. Drowning can happen to any family. It’s quick, and it’s silent. Drowning is the No. 1 cause of death among children aged 1-4, and it is the second-leading cause of death among teens. We can lower these rates if pediatricians, parents and policy-makers work together to implement the types of solutions we know will keep children safe.
2. AAP recommends a “layered” strategy to lower rates of drowning among children.
o We must make children’s environments safer. Evidence shows that making children’s environments safer is the most effective way to reduce drowning deaths. Fencing that completely surrounds a pool and separates it from the house can reduce drowning deaths of young children by as much as 50%, and locking doors that lead to a yard or pool can also help. Most children who drown in residential swimming pools drown during non-swim time, so it is crucial to be prepared, and constantly vigilant.
o Children can drown in as little as 1 inch of water, and any standing water can be dangerous. Installing bathroom door locks and toilet latches, emptying buckets, pools and tubs, and will help keep curious toddlers and young children safe.
o We must help families take steps to protect children from drowning. Close, constant, attentive supervision is essential when children of any age are near water. Children need to learn to swim. While there is evidence swim lessons reduce the risk of drowning for some kids, there is no way to “drown-proof” a child.
Please check out the new policy statement and toolkit from the AAP. If interested in further information, videos, advocacy efforts and infographics, please check: https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/campaigns/drowning-prevention/Pages/default.aspx