Sunday, May 17, 2009

Privacy matters

It's such a tightrope walk - such a delicate balance - so difficult to misstep as I try to tell my story without telling too much of Bud's, as I try to seek input and advice and guidance without imposing on my son's right to privacy - and without compromising any of his dignity.

So I hope I am staying on the right side of discretion when I ask this question: What do you do if your son gets to an age where it becomes less appropriate to take him into the women's restroom, if he is not able to manage the men's room on his own?

Obviously, I have a mental list of every "unisex" or "family" bathroom in a fifty mile radius, and when we can, we head for those. But sometimes we can't. Sometimes we're in a place that simply has big, crowded, public restrooms, and one or both of us needs to use them.

Right now, we're still getting away with using the women's room, but with the rate at which he's growing and developing, I know that our days are numbered. Bud will be 10 in September. Pretty soon it won't be okay.

These days when we're in crowded women's rooms, I use the "running monologue" approach. As soon as we enter, I start talking as I steer Bud toward a stall - "Okay, buddy, we're okay, let's head for that big stall over there, you're doing a great job, here we go, right in there, that's great.... now let's go to the sink and let's wash hands, make sure you use soap, okay dry them good, good job, buddy, now we're all done and right out the door." My purpose is twofold: 1) it keeps him focused on the task at hand; and, 2) it says without saying to anyone in earshot, "this is not a typical nine-year-old and we have a valid reason for being in here."

So far, it has worked. But six months from now? A year? Two years? My hope, of course, is that the issue will resolve on its own, and Bud will be able to manage the bathroom experience independently. But if he's not?

What then?


SpooWriter said...

My understanding, though my brother is generally capable of caring for his own toileting needs (barring unfortunate "stomach issues"), is that (in California at least) the law is that an attendant should accompany a person with a disability into the restroom they would typically use.

There are signs all over our rest stops that depict a male with a female caregiver on the male restroom door and vice versa.

I used to do the "talking constantly" trick with Patrick too, and I still do sometimes if we're somewhere that makes him uncomfortable, so people who might not see his face (or might not recognize Down syndrome) will understand why he's anxious.

Hope that helps. :-)

Random said...

Often, businesses like stores and shopping malls will allow people in that type of situation (requiring an opposite-gender caregiver) to use an employee washroom to avoid arousing curiosity or discomfort in other customers while still accommodating those who need it. Why not ask while the situation is still not problematic, so that you have the knowledge prepared in case you ever need it?

Ange said...

Unless it's also an open dressing/showering area, the women are exposed behind closed doors, so really is it that inappropriate? Even if my husband is with us, we still prefer to take Bubba into the woman's restroom (he's 9) than in the men's if it is an open urinal. Without disclosing too much... talk about the possibility of inappropriateness! :) I don't bat an eye if a male person is accompanied by a female in a woman's restroom unless maybe if they are groping eachother (which I have seen once or twice). Then I might blink.

kristina said...

i do exactly the same thing---a lot of talking to make it clear, here is my (male) child and me, and we know this is a women's restroom.

I haven't had the chance (yet) to ask anyone about using an employees' restroom. Once at the Newark train station, a policeman assured me, we could always ask to use the restroom at the police station.

So I know I can ask. But the thing is, in the heat of the moment, I often don't feel I have time to ask. (Or, I forget, distracted by a more immediate circumstance.) Guess I may just have to keep carrying extra clothes in my bag...... Thank you for writing this post; suggestions very much needed.

Anonymous said...

I'm a big fan of "practicing". When my son was going into 1st grade and needed to navigate the cafeteria on his own, we practiced things like opening containers and packaging at home ahead of time. I quickly figured out what NOT to put in his lunch and he gained some confidence.

Why not try something like that w/ using the bathroom--before it's a crisis mode? He can "practice" at home and when the two of you are out and alone in a public restroom. You'll get an idea of what skills he needs to work on and he'll start to feel more independent.

As for sending him into a men's room alone, I think even mothers of typical kids struggle over when that is age appropriate. I've often stood outside the door and hollered in "Are you okay?" just so everyone would understand that this kid has a parent right outside the door, willing and able to barge in at any time.

The system, however, is definitely flawed. :-(

farmwifetwo said...

Luckily more and more here there are handicap bathrooms. In the bigger centres you have to ask for the key, usually at the food court area.

For the pool, since the age of "you have to get dressed on your own" is 7, we use the lifeguard area.

In Ont accommodation is mandatory on all new building, and coming on all old buildings. I find due to the legislation on the books and the fact that discrimination is frowned upon here in the courts, accommodations are usually found to suit everyone if you ask.

I was shocked in Boston to see the sidewalks, the inability to manuever on them with a wheelchair... that is not allowed here. I was shocked at the fact that places that served food did not have washrooms for customers. Again, anyone that serves food must have washrooms for customers. I suspect that's common across the country and I would never have noticed if I didn't have children with ASD.... Maybe ASAN should be fighting for appropriate handicap services???

mumkeepingsane said...

I do the "running monologue" right now too. My older son started going into the boys bathroom when he was 9. I started out by standing at the door, as was already mentioned, and yelling periodically.

Patrick is only 7 and still comes with me. I imagine the transition will be similar although not without its own unique challenges. And I can't imagine letting Patrick into a bathroom alone till he's at least 10.

Like you, I know where all the family bathrooms are.

I'm guessing we need to get used to the idea of being the 'attendant' in these situations and get comfortable with going into the men's bathroom? For some reason I'm less embarassed to just take him with me.

Recently, at a well known location to us, I knew the men's bathroom was empty and allowed Patrick to go alone. He did very well and it made us both feel proud.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you brought this up and look forward to other answers.

J can read quite well and takes everything literally of course. Lately he has pitched absolute fits at the mention of going into a womans restroom when he can see the mens right next to it. I've done the stand at the door several times with him in very familiar places like church just to make sure he is staying focused but since he is only 6 and the 4 year old brother wants to do what he does, I try not to let him go in the mens room in unfamiliar/stranger laden places.

Niksmom said...

Boy, you ask great questions! We haven't encountered this problem yet. I know the day is fast approaching, though, because of how Nik is growing. Ours is complicated, too, due to the whole not-toilet-trained factor. I'll look to you andyour readers for guidance!

pixiemama said...

We do the talk-through,too, but Foster is so very literal that even at 6 he is arguing to me that he is not allowed in the women's room. A good thing, on one hand, because he could get in big trouble for wandering into the girl's restroom at school. And yet. I can't do it. I cannot go into a men's room with him. Not only could I not handle it - I don't think HE could handle it.

I think everyone is spot-on in suggesting you speak with managers at the places you frequent NOW, before it truly becomes an issue.

Thanks for bringing it up - I've often wondered how we're going to manage this in the years ahead.

Kent Adams said...

Excellent question and one no one has an answer to as of yet I see. My son, now 6, is still using both restrooms depending on which parent takes him but he does know that he should use the men's restroom. I think I could let him go in by himself with the talking at the door but his problem is that he lingers and has a fascination with toilets and he doesn't understand not to touch certain things! Let's just say his gross out factor is about 0! In addition, he's a bit lazy about pulling up his pants very quickly so its not unusual that he would begin to leave the urinal with his pants half way down! This is such a good thing to brainstorm on and you have given me enough time now to really start to formulate a plan and routine.

VTBudFan said...

We call them the "moms' room" and "dads' room" rather than the women's and men's rooms.

Urinals make accompanying kids to the men's room hard...this must be hard for dads with daughters.

I vote for marching in to the women's rooms with Bud as if you own the place, as long as he needs it! :)

What do we need to do to make family bathrooms the norm?

Anonymous said...

how do you know bud is not ready to handle the men's room? i'm not being challenging, i'm really curious.

fluffy's been uncomfortable in the women's room lately. at 8, he's noticed (finally) that he's not a girl and doesn't belong there. he'll still come with me when i have to go but if i don't have to go, i perched outside the men's room while he goes in on his own (even though thoughts of unseen exits or windows fly through my mind--not that he'd escape but my fear is of a creep in there to grab him)

i carry Clean Well in my purse, a natural spray hand cleaner and often he simply asks for that when he comes out because washing can be confusing--the water often comes out too fast or hot for him, the soap is often forgotten (or hard to find) and he either wipes his hands his clothes or uses MANY miles of paper.

mom-nos said...

Good question, Kyra, but the answer would cross the invisible privacy line. In short: motor planning, executive function, sensory integration, anxiety, biology, maturity.

mom-nos said...

Random, that's an EXCELLENT suggestion. Thanks! (And thanks, everyone, for your input.)

Daisy said...

Look for a "family" restroom. Many locations have them. They're separate from the basic men's and women's.

Ekie said...

I worry that the longer you take him into the womens room, the harder transition it will be for him to go into the mens room. I would try, if a mens room is empty, taking him in there (even though as a woman it really, really squicks me out too) and practicing. And keep on practicing with him in the mens room until he can do it, because as a person with an ASD myself learning something in one room might not transfer to another! When you do send him in by himself you could ask a nearby father or employee to keep an eye on him. Or just go in there with him - I mean, why not, mens room usually have a lot less of a line too, you'll get in and out quicker.

Drama Mama said...

Holy Moly, good question.

I don't know. This is why I have girls, I suppose. God didn't trust me.

Good luck, though.

Anonymous said...

I made a sign that I can stick to the door. I will yell in either the mens or womens room to see if anyone is inside. if not, I stick a sign on the door or wall that says "Please wait..special needs child with adult inside". Most people do wait and honestly we don't take that long anyway. If it's crowded then we do the talking thing.

LAA and Family said...

This is a great post, and a problem I have been encountering as well since my son is now 10. Additionally, my husband doesn't even like to take him in men's rest rooms because it's just about impossible for him to discretely use a urinal.

I am grateful for places that have family restrooms and when they are not available we use the women's room. It can feel awkward sometimes but so far I have never had any problem, it's pretty apparent just by sight that my son needs help. Also, I sometimes have his 7 year old brother in tow as well, though if my oldest son is with me (he's 11) they can go to the men's room together.

Anonymous said...

My son is 19. He is not capable of going alone (I still assist him at home) so I take him in the women's restroom with me, if a family one is not available. We occasionally get the odd look, but I just act like "I know what I'm doing" and we've had no comments made. Sometimes I do the talking thing just to offer some explanation of why I'm dragging a man with a mustache in the bathroom with me-ha. Yes, it's an issue, but not a life-threatening one so we just deal with it--and let everyone else do that, too.

Unknown said...

I had my first "negative" comment just yesterday- made by someone who "knows" my son (9yo, with a similar list to Bud's barriers) in fact. He "needs" help sometimes and is working on being independent. Feeling that this was a "needs help" day, he asked for me to accompany him to the bathroom. When exiting (after needing help I want to add) we bumped into a teacher's aid from his classroom. She scolded him for using the women's bathroom and said she was going to tell Mrs. X, his teacher. I commented that "Sometimes kids still need help" and hurried him away. Unfortunately, the encounter ruined the trip as he now thinks he will start the incoming school year out in trouble.
We keep practicing, look for family bathrooms, and ignore the comments. I'm sure they are said, I just don't hear them.

Life as the mother of 4 said...

I just found your blog today. This summer as I took my big, nine year-old son into a women's bathroom, someone came up to us to say hi. (Will is very obviously autistic.) She asked me about him and then said that she always took her son into the women's bathroom as well. She'd tell everyone he had disabilities on their way in.

My personal philosophy is that everyone can suck it up. Of course, I'm happy to use a family bathroom if available but if not ... well, they're more likely to see my son naked then he is to see them.

Anonymous said...

Move to France,