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Autism awareness: Jacksonville nonprofit begins campaign to hand out anti-drowning kits

Great Strides for Children is providing kits that include door and pool alarms.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — They're life-saving tools, and they're free for families to protect and prevent those with autism from drownings. 

Great Strides for Children is beginning a new safety campaign by handing out anti-drowning kits. They include door alarms and wearable safety cards.

"If it saves even one life, this is fantastic," said Dr. Jon Edenfield.

He's the executive director of Great Strides Rehabilitation which provides autism therapy services.

"We had two families that told us that they had children that got out of their house this morning, and they saw the story and realized how important and how easy a child can get out of the home," he explained to First Coast News. 

He's known two families recently impacted by drownings, including a near drowning last year.

We've reported on the issue, including at least three retention pond drownings in Jacksonville in 2021.  A four and five year boy, both with autism, died about a month apart. 

"Because we have such a large autism population in our clinics, it really brings home the importance of addressing this as quickly as we can," said Candy Hurst, also with Great Strides Rehabilitation.

Hurst says ponds aren't the only concern. Any water, including in bathtubs, beaches, lakes and rivers, pose a danger because those with autism are drawn to water.

"This is one of those things that can often times get overlooked even though it's just so important," Hurst said.

The nonprofit also has life jackets that can be borrowed for special events and hope to partner with another agency to offer swim lessons.

To reserve an anti-drowning safety kit, you can call (904) 886-3228.  

Pick up locations are listed here.  

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