My son is on the autism spectrum and wants to learn how to scuba dive. Will his autism be a problem?
Everyone with autism is unique and must be evaluated independently. There will never be an all-inclusive recommendation.
First, all decisions must be made by you, properly trained dive instructors, and the physicians who are most closely involved in his behavioural and physical care. For some individuals, scuba diving comes naturally, and they handle it well with the proper accommodations and qualified instructors. For others, the risks are too high, and diving should not be considered. Each case depends on the person’s level of function and comorbidities.
In making an informed decision, you must consider the following: Does he have any sensory imbalances? These can cause hyperreactivity to stimuli that can be aggravated underwater as well as panic and subsequent life-threatening injuries. Can he make prompt decisions and monitor gauges, depth, air consumption, and buoyancy? Research indicates that many people on the autism spectrum have some degree of cognitive impairment, which can affect decision-making.
Repetitive behaviour such as tics or rocking may present difficulties with basic underwater skills such as buoyancy control, which could lead to injury. Some people on the autism spectrum have challenges with muscle tone and co-ordination. Finally, you must consider his awareness of cues and his ability to understand the need to frequently equalise his ears.
This is not an all-inclusive list. You may wish to review this information with groups that specialise in autism spectrum disorder. If he is cleared to dive, investigate organisations that specialise in scuba diving for people with disabilities. Depending on your son’s level of functioning, an adaptive scuba instructor may be a resource to consider.
This article was originally published in Scuba Diver UK #71.