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‘My motherly instinct kicked in:’ Raising water safety awareness for children with autism

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Wednesday is National Water Safety Day. It’s dedicated to raising awareness on ways to stay safe in or around water. Locally, Diversity in Aquatics is teaming up with Oak Hill Elementary to educate children with autism about water safety.

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Action News Jax spoke with a mother who nearly lost her kids after they went underwater in a pool.

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In May 2022, an autistic 11-year-old drowned off Dunn Avenue. He was transported to the hospital where he was later pronounced dead. On March 22, 2024, a 4-year-old boy was reported missing. He was later found in the St. Johns River. He also drowned.

These tragedies show the dangers lakes, ponds, pools, and other water bodies pose to children, especially children with autism.

“Since Covid, drowning has about 500 per year,” Executive Director of Diversity in Aquatics, Miriam Lynch said.

READ: Welaka community grieving with family of 4-year-old boy found dead in St. Johns River

Lynch says children with autism are at the most risk. She gives safety tips to parents and children.

“Look before you go into the water. Know what it means to have an adult present before going into the water. I need to make sure I’m swimming with a pair of buddies,” Lynch said.

According to CDC.GOV, over 4,500 people in the U.S. drowned each year between 2020-2022.

Danielle Williams has four kids. Two nearly drowned in her parents’ pool. Luckily, one of her sons warned her in time.

Parent Danielle Williams said, “My motherly instinct kicked in and I ran outside. Just the tip of their heads was showing. I jumped in, got them both, and swamped to the ladder.”

She was able to get her daughter and youngest son, who has autism out of the pool.

READ: Family of drowned Jacksonville 2-year-old speaks out, accuses apartment management of negligence

Williams said her daughter was the one who saved the day.

“Her instinct as a sister was to jump in to get him. She had kept him from going under.”

Former State Senator Tony Hill became an advocate of water safety after a drowning took place at his home three years ago.

“A three-year-old drowned in my backyard. She got away from her home water and drowned,” Hill said.

Teach your child how to swim, always have eyes on your kids, and swim with a group are just a few tips from water safety experts.

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