Tailored swimming classes are helping children with autism overcome their fear of water. For most families, a day at the pool or beach is a great way to escape South Australia’s searing heat waves. But for kids like Logan Fischer, five, of Morphett Vale, and his mum Kate, a summer swim is not always a positive experience.

Logan, who has autism, used to be terrified of the water.

“Bath times were horrendous,” Kate says. “We struggled to get him to stand in the bath, and showers were totally out of the question.”

Today, the situation has reversed, thanks to Rapidswim SA’s Aquatic Therapy Program. Run by Inclusive Sport SA during school terms, the program is designed to introduce people with a disability to water, and its biggest demographic is children with autism.

Rapidswim occupational therapist Anne Sunners says these children can find it hard to tolerate the feeling of water on their body.

“Safety can be an issue for some children, because of reduced awareness of their own body and water safety,” she says. “Leading into summer, this is a serious concern around pools and at the beach.” Kate says since starting with Rapidswim, Logan’s attitude to water has completely changed.

“Now we can’t get him out of the bath – he sits and plays and splashes,” she says. “Seeing my son so happy in the water is something I never thought I’d see.”

Inclusive Sport SA chief executive John Cranwell says for some, the program will be covered by the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). But he says due to rollout delays, many families are still waiting to join the program.

Pools step up safety

South Australia’s public swimming pools are getting tougher on child safety this summer by adopting the Watch Around Water campaign.

According to Recreation SA, the number of accredited pools has jumped to 35 this year. At those pools, parents are required to take more responsibility for their child’s safety. Under the campaign, children under five must be supervised from within an arm’s reach. If in the pool, they must swim with a parent or guardian. Children under 10 must be supervised by maintaining visual contact with the child at all times.

It comes as the Royal Life Saving Society’s Australia National Drowning Report shows a jump in drownings in the zero to four-year-old age group. The report shows that 31 children in this group drowned in 2012-13, a 48 percent increase on the previous year. Swimming pools were responsible for 61 percent of drowning deaths in children under five. This age group accounted for 44 percent of all swimming pool drowning deaths. An absence of supervision was identified in 94 percent of cases. And pools accounted for over half of all drowning deaths of children aged five to 14 years.