WINTER PARK, Fla. – In 2019, 2-year-old Alijah Gonzalez drowned while vacationing with her parents in Florida. Alijah had recently been diagnosed with autism before the tragedy.
“It is devastating for any mother,” said Dr. Neina Mehta.
Dr. Mehta is a Neurodevelopmental Pediatrician at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children. She said drowning continues to be the number one cause of death for children with an autism spectrum disorder. She says children with autism are very attracted to water.
“We’re not sure exactly why that is the case. Maybe just the calming and soothing effect, or the shimmering of water. It does attract them. Children with autism also have a huge tendency to wander,” Dr. Mehta said.
Alijah’s legacy will live on, as her family gets results through their platform ‘Alijah’s Awareness.’ Partnering with Goldfish Swim School in Winter Park they are offering 10 swimmer scholarships to local kids. The scholarship includes three free months of swim and safety lessons. It’s in an effort to cut down on drownings not for just kids with autism, but for all children.
“We focus on some really important water safety skills like rolling over on their back to take a breath, getting out of the pool safely and independently,” Goldfish Swim School Owner Gina Jacobs Thomas said.
In a state covered with lakes and pools, Dr. Mehta said those are the skills that are important for any child to learn, especially those with autism.
“They are just like any other child and can learn like any other child, they just have to be taught in a different way,” Dr. Mehta said.
Click here to nominate a family for the swimmer scholarship. Nominations are open for Alijah’s Swimmer Scholarship as a part of Autism Acceptance Month through April 30. The free lessons can be used for any child, they don’t have to have autism spectrum disorder.