Palm Beach County Parks program provides drowning prevention classes for children on autism spectrum

LAKE WORTH, Fla - Six-year-old Nicholas Cerra and five-year-old Samantha Bell are enjoying a morning in the Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Department pool in Lake Worth. 

Both are on the autism spectrum, and neither understands the risks from the  water.

"Because he's speech and language impaired, he has an inability to ask for help at times or recognize certain situations," said Nicholas' mother, Lisa.

Like many on the autism spectrum, both have a tendency to run from their homes.

"Samantha wanders a lot," said her mother, Tracy.

When those with autism wander, they can end up in the water.

"He loves the water," Lisa Cerra says of her son.

Drowning is one of the leading causes of death for those on the spectrum.

"He would have just jumped right in," said Lisa Cerra of her son. "He would not realize there was any fear in the water. Now he's able to float and get to the side."

With the large number of pools and canals in the area, along with the ocean and lake,  the childrens' mothers decided to sign them up for drowning prevention classes in the program for children with special needs.

"Use those arms, use those arms," says lifeguard Melissa Miller to Nicholas.

Here they get one on one instruction.

"You can really look into their eyes and say, 'Are you listening to me? Did you hear what I'm doing? Show me what I'm doing,'" said Miller.

It hasn't come easily for the youngsters. But they are developing the skills that could save their lives. 

"She has learned how to go under water and hold her breath rather than drink the water," said Tracy Bell of her daughter. "She has learned to kick her feet and move her arms, not at the same time yet but we're working on that."

For more information on Palm Beach County's program for therapeutic recreation, go to: