Autism and Water Connection: Are Autism Children Drawn to WaterAutism Mom Blog

Connection Between Autism and Water

Autism and Water Connection

Is there a connection between autism and water?  By now, I am sure you are familiar with the story of the autistic man that was found after three weeks in the desert.  I was reading an article on the Telegraph about the rescue of 28 year old William Martin LaFever, and was a little confused about one thing that is reported in it.  It hinted a connection between autism and water.  The officer that found LaFever reports that he received autism training and that he was taught that autistic individuals were drawn to water.

Gardner’s training in searching for people with autism taught him they are naturally drawn to water, so the helicopter search focused on the Escalante River, the department said.

Gardner is Deputy Ray Gardner of the Garfield County Sheriff’s Department.  First, I think it’s great that he had autism training.  I think all law enforcement agencies should.  What I am a little confused about is the assumption that all autistic individuals are drawn to water.  What is that based on?  I know my son loves water, and he has no fear of it.  But does that mean there is a connection between autism and water?

Isn’t it just as likely that the reason that LaFever was found in the area of the Escalante River because of a basic survival instinct?  You need water to survive.  Wouldn’t you go to where there is water, if you knew where the water was?  I’m just trying to understand.

I’ve been raising an autistic child for 13 years.  This is the first time I have ever heard of something like this.  What do you think?  Do you think there is a connection between autism and water?  Are individuals with autism naturally drawn to water?  I don’t, but that’s just my opinion.  What’s yours?

31 comments to Connection Between Autism and Water

  • Wow, that is intereting….I never heard of it before.
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  • Ummm. Aren’t all human beings drawn to water? Particularly when we’re lost in the desert??
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  • Kristen

    Hmm, I’ve never heard that but it would be very interesting to see if there’s any data that backs that up. Either way, it is great that the searcher had training, whether it helped find the missing man or not!

  • With a search on Google, most of the results I found were about this same story, but when I dug deeper I did find a lot of safety tips that said children with Autism are drawn to water…I’d never heard of this either, but it seems to be based on some sort of research.
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  • Very interesting .. thanks for sharing!
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  • Never heard this theory before. In fact many autistic children I have worked with have aversions to water. I think you are correct and it is more likely a primal urge instinct!
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  • Huh? I hadn’t heard of that either, but it’s interesting enough that I’d like to dig deeper.
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  • Great article! After working with autistic children in the past, many of them always had an aversion to water so I tend to go more with your thought, that it is basic human instinct. Thanks for sharing!
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  • I have never heard of that either. I would think any person, regardless of they’re autistic or not, would be drawn to water. Very interesting!
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  • I think this is distortion of “many with autism are drawn to water” which is true if you read the every few weeks story of a child with autism wandering and drowning. In these stories, the parents often recount their child being drawn to water. This is 100% true of my 11 year old daughter. Water is a magnet. So I think this evolved from many kids with autism are drawn to water to more absolute everyone with autism is drawn to water.
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  • Interesting! I’m going need to do more research. You would think everyone would be drawn to water.
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  • I’ve never heard of that. It’s wonderful that the Sheriff’s department had training for this.
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  • I had never heard that before. I had done research a while back on Autism and do not recall the info on water. I have worked for Law Enforcement Agencies before and am amazed at how much effort the do put into their training to keep people safe.
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  • This is the first I’ve heard of particular connection to water and autism, but… I think you’re right that anyone’s innate survival instincts would be to (at least try) to find water, imho.
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  • I actually noticed my students love to play in the water and constantly wash their hands. I definitely see a connection.
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  • I’m so glad to be reading your blog. I love following along, learning, and reading your story. I never knew this about water.
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  • I’ve never heard this either. That’s interesting though and makes me wonder if there’s some sort of research that supports this idea. I’m with you and would assume he was found near water for survival.
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  • Kate

    Many children with autism are fascinated by water, and it is used as therapy for some with sensory integration problems. The Autism Society of America details the issue in the safety information they provide to first responders nationwide, linked and quoted below. And, Wiki also identifies being drawn to water as a characteristic of autism, as linked and quoted below.

    About 50 percent of children on the spectrum are evidenced in research to have issues with wandering from a safe place; this is a safety issue for all children, but particularly among some children on the spectrum as they may not be as cognizant of the dangers as other children may be, in regard to activity around bodies of water.

    http://support.autism-society.org/site/DocServer/Law_Enforcement_and_Other_First_Responders.pdf?docID=10941

    “First responders and paramedics involved in search-and-rescue response should be aware that individuals with ASD will seek out items and locations that hold fascinations for them. Examples include water sources, trains, and cars. Individuals may go to these places without realizing the potential dangers involved. In
    fires, individuals with autism have been known to hide in closets or under beds to escape from the sound of fire alert systems.”

    From Wiki:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autism

    “Characteristics:”

    “Other aspects, such as atypical eating, are also common but are not essential for diagnosis.[21] Autism’s individual symptoms occur in the general population and appear not to associate highly, without a sharp line separating pathologically severe from common traits.[22]

    People with autism are naturally drawn to water. [23][24]”

    R/Kate

  • Patricia Arges

    My autistic son loves to be in the water, but has little fear of going out on a lake or pool over his head with inadequate flotation devices so he needs extra supervision. He also washes his hands and his toys over and over and overfills the bathtub (and uses too much soap!). His psychiatrist says this OCD-like behavior is related to inadequate seratonin and is common for autistic kids. He has also always been attracted to things that move and sparkle and make sounds so that would explain his attraction to water too. Maybe the need for deep pressure is also involved. I’m glad rescue workers realize this link so they can find these lost kids quicker. I have great respect for them.

  • Demi

    Hi there! I have an autistic brother who is 14 and we done a lot of research on this topic! They apparently see things that we don’t see in the water such as bEautiful patterns and colors :) hope this helps x

  • Connie Schultz

    My daughter has a love/hate relationship with water. For weeks at a time she would not wash her hair because she couldn’t stand the feel of the water in it. Then I signed her up for swimming and she loved it, but thought she could swim better than she did and would talk about jumping in the deep end.

    Now we go to the pool sometimes so she will wash her hair in the showers there. It makes me feel better when she wears a life vest. i do feel that she would go into water too deep and does not use good judgement about water. When she was in regular school I would worry about her wandering off to the wetlands right by the school.

    Water is such a sensory experience and with my girl that means alot.

  • ok i ended up here curious about the whole “drawn to water” connection, as i’d never heard it before. i followed the wikipedia link because i wanted to see what the actual sources were, and… the mention of being “drawn to water” had been removed, as the references were not considered adequate for a medical article. in fact, the references were both news items about william martin lafeaver’s rescue – the article in question above.

    a quick search of pubmed didn’t come up with any research on the topic either (though there are lots of articles by a fellow named van de water), so the mystery remains!
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  • Dawn

    My 3 year old son, is definitely drawn to the water.. it’s been a wonderful tool to help in engage with me. Unfortunately, he doesn’t recognize the possible dangers.. so I have to remain vigilante that he doesn’t run in a devil take the hindmost towards a body of water.

    At the moment, we are working on a Sensory Processing disorder diagnoses.

  • Amy Abdeen

    Yes, I believe it is very true! My son who is autistic can hear water at a distance and runs towards it each time. He loves the water from the sink, bath and showers, rain, sprinklers, pools, etc. He is OBSESSED with water. He can play in it for hours if he wanted to. That is why he is taking swimming lessons this spring.

    • Tammy

      My son is the same way. He’s been taking swimming lessons each summer, but has yet to actually learn. I haven’t given up. One day, he will put it all together and be able to swim.

  • Caitlin Drummond

    I am an adult on the spectrum. I personally am very drawn to water, but natural bodies of water. I have ever since I was little. I feel very at home and peaceful when swimming in lakes, streams, and especially the ocean. I have never particularly understood a specific reason for it, but I am drawn to water. It is actually quite strong, if I see water any time of year cold or hot I automatically have a longing to go to it. I don’t know if all people on the spectrum have this kind of connection to water, but I do know that it is common for them to, like me and your son. Hope this helps somewhat, I know it’s not real specific.

  • J_po

    My son is autistic and he is OBESSED with water as well. He also loves the water from the sink, bath and showers, rain, sprinklers, pools, etc. I defintely think there is a connection.

    I have friends who work with the local fire department and police department and they are aware of this danager. Especially my Firefighter friend. He said that he took a training course regarding this subject.

  • Shelly

    My son is in the autism spectrum and has always been drawn to water. We put him in swimming lessons at the early age of 2. He loved anything water, either a puddle of water to any large body of…but the water in the toilet was also very fascinating. We never thought he would be potty trained because of the constant fascination. He would actually get in and try to swim! After about 2 1/2 years of potty training we finally overcame it. He attended a autism development preschool for 3 years, and about 80 percent of the families said that their children were also drawn to water…
    I’ve always wondered why…

  • Zim Lady FC

    I believe there is a connection. My non verbal autistic son loves water. I am not surprised to hear the same among many parents I know whose children are on the autism spectrum. My son loves to throw handfuls of water in the air and watch the droplets cascade down with the sunlight glinting on them. I think he enjoys the feel, the sound and the look of water. He cannot speak but I have often wondered if he counts the droplets as they fall.

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