Find the right (typical or adaptive) life jacket that best meets your child’s needs to wear anytime the child is near water.

Summer Life-Saving Tips for Parents of Children with Autism and Other Special Needs


Randolph, Mass. – Summer is a great time for children with autism and other special needs to enjoy family outings that may include picnics in the park, a visit to the beach, or a road trip to another state. To help ensure your child's safety this summer, we offer the following tips.

Click here to read "Summer Outings Can be Fun and Safe for Children with Special Needs."

Tips for being safe around the water:

Many children with autism and other developmental disabilities are powerfully drawn to the water, but do not understand the dangers.

  • Find the right (typical or adaptive) life jacket that best meets your child’s needs to wear anytime the child is near water – pool, lake, river, fountain, pond, hot tub, or any open water. 

  • Always be within arm’s reach of the child when he or she is in or around any open water.

  • Be sure to drain bathtubs and other small containers of water when you are finished using them. Put safety locks on toilet seats; motion detector alarms/safety locks on all hot tubs, landscape ponds, or other water sources around your home.

  • Take adaptive swim classes with your child at an early age. Many YMCAs and Parks and Recreation Departments offer these classes. If your child has difficulty learning conventional swimming strokes, teach him or her drown-proofing, a water survival technique that will help a child stay afloat until help arrives.

What can you do if your child often runs or wanders away?

Read our column about "elopement behavior" (running or wandering away) that puts children with ASD and other special needs at risk.

Distinguishing between stranger and friend:

In emergency situations – when a child has wandered from home and is lost or in physical peril, for example – it is difficult for children with special needs to distinguish a stranger from a friend. This puts them in greater danger of becoming lost or hurt. It is critical for both first responders in the community and children with special needs to feel secure around each other.

  • Participate in local community safety fairs where there are opportunities to meet actual police, fire fighters, and emergency response professionals that work in your community in an environment that is friendly and fun. This will make it more likely that your children will respond positively to first responders in the future.
  • Fill out a disability indicator form and submit it to your local law enforcement agency. This will help alert law enforcement that a person residing at that address may require special assistance during an emergency. In addition to this form, complete a more detailed handout with information about your child that you can provide to first responders. Keep copies of your handout in printed and electronic formats so you can readily provide it to search and rescue personnel in the event of an incident.
  • Give your neighbors a handout with a picture of your child, physical characteristics and emergency contact information. You may also want to describe your child’s fears and effective ways to approach, communicate with, and calm your child. Ask them to contact you immediately if they see your child outside your home or property.

For more information to share with your local community law enforcement and safety departments, download a copy of our “10 Points First Responders Should Know About Autism” fact sheet.

About May Institute

May Institute is a national nonprofit organization that provides educational, rehabilitative, and behavioral healthcare services to individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities, brain injury, and other behavioral health needs. May Institute operates four schools for children and adolescents with ASD and other debelopmental disabilities. For more information, visit

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May Institute does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, physical or mental disability, sex/gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, military status, veteran status, genetic information, pregnancy, pregnancy-related conditions, marital status, socioeconomic status, homelessness, or any other category protected under applicable law in treatment or employment at the Institute, admission or access to the Institute, or any other aspect of the educational programs and activities that the Institute operates. The Institute is required by Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504), Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX), the Age Discrimination Act of 1975 (Age Act), and their respective implementing regulations at 34 C.F.R. Parts 100, 104, 106 and 110, not to discriminate on the basis of race, color, or national origin (Title VI); disability (Section 504); sex (Title IX); or age (Age Act). Inquiries concerning the application of each of these statutes and their implementing regulations to the Institute may be referred to the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, at (617) 289-0111 or 5 Post Office Square, 8th Floor, Boston, MA 02109-3921, or to Terese Brennan - Compliance Officer, at 1-888-664-9870 or or May Institute 14 Pacella Park Drive, Randolph, MA 02368.