Dad on a Mission to Teach Children with Autism to Swim
Earlier this year, David Sikes, a four-and-a-half-year-old boy with autism, drowned in a retention pond after leaving his home while his mother was taking a nap. After hearing about the news, Matt Wiseman, a Pinellas County dad, took it upon himself to teach children with autism to swim. “It absolutely breaks my heart to hear of another local child with autism drowning because I know that could have been my son” he said.
The dangerous attraction to water
Children with autism are 150% more likely to drown. Wiseman’s own son, Ben, has autism and he almost drowned one summer when he walked right into a pool. Fortunately, his father was there to save him. It was then that Wiseman learned first-hand how dangerous water can be. “Kids with autism are attracted to water, so that’s why it’s so important we show them how to protect themselves around it” he stressed.
In 2016, Wiseman launched the Pinellas Autism Project, dedicated to families affected by autism spectrum disorder and other neurodevelopmental challenges. “Some people with Autism have sensory issues that challenge their ability to learn water safety. Water temperature, the feel of wet clothing, having enough and the right kinds of towels — these are all things to consider when beginning swimming lessons for a person with Autism” he said.
During the months of summer, Wiseman brings children with autism to a pool once a week. There, he teaches them how to swim, how to float, and how to pull themselves out of the water. “We have a few kids who had an uncle do the old ‘throw them in the pool trick,’ and now they are fearful. We work with these kids to help them get past their fear and learn to swim” he said.
Read more to learn about water safety programs for children with autism.