A Port Macquarie local is raising awareness on how children with autism can be impacted by the challenges of COVID-19 restrictions.
Erika Gleeson was born in Port Macquarie before leaving at 19 to live and work interstate and overseas.
Her family still lives in town and she has always returned regularly to visit them.
Erika is the founder and clinical director of Autism Swim, an organisation set up to help prevent wandering and drowning for children with autism.
April is Autism Awareness month and Erika said it's more important now than ever to work to help improve the lives of children with autism and their families.
People with autism can experience difficulties with communication, social interaction and restricted/repetitive interests and behaviours.
Erika says people are often not aware that children under 14 are 160 times more likely to drown than their peers.
When Erika first saw the data she thought it might have been a mistake but her discovery motivated her to establish Autism Swim.
Erika said unfortunately it's likely there will be a regression of skills for many children with autism amid the current challenges.
She said there's also a higher likelihood of wandering, where an individual tries to leave the safety of a responsible person's care or a safe area, which has the potential to result in harm or injury.
Unfortunately, Erika said children with autism are also often attracted to water bodies when this happens, and it's believed this is due to the positive sensory associations with being in and under the water.
However, Erika said often they have a decreased ability to perceive risk and danger and they are not very strong swimmers.
Daily routines become lifelines for children with autism.
However, it's difficult to set up and maintain a routine when their parents are struggling to juggle all the other commitments they need to in self-isolation, Erika said.
"They are wearing far more hats than the average parent at this time," she said.
Autism Swim is providing parents with a number of resources to help support them.
Erika said instructors are encouraged to conduct teleconferences with their clients to ensure the rapport they have built up over time remains strong.
For more information about the organisation, or to access resources, visit autismswim.com.au