Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Germs aren’t the scariest things inside! - Success in Public Restrooms

With my usual not so at ease self I sent Nicky into the men’s room at the zoo, alone.  A few minutes later a man came out, looked at us while protectively holding on to his son and said “There’s a strange boy inside”.  Clearly, he didn’t know the “strange boy” belonged to me or that Nicky wasn’t strange, or dangerous he was just acting like an ASD kid, unaffected by social protocols.  I took a deep breath, to release the knot in my stomach and help me let go of my disappointment that the man didn’t say “There’s  a boy inside who might need some help.  If you know the boy inside you might want to check on him” instead.   Then I approached the restroom door and called for Nicky to come out.

Restrooms in public places are one of those little things that have been a challenge for years.  Not only because of Nicky’s ASD but because I’m a single mom of a boy, which means there’s typically not a guy around to take him in the restroom. I never thought much of how families automatically divided by sex to take their kids into public restrooms; but now as a single mom raising a boy I notice. 

Until recently I didn’t let Nicky go into public men’s rooms alone;  because he was too young , and then I was afraid he might not be safe.   I remember when he went into a crowded boy’s room during school and was over stimulated by all the kids’ movements and noises.  Unable to focus, little man came out of the stall before getting his pants up, began jumping up and down, making noises and flapping his arms.  One of his flapping hands hit a boy, and the boy turned around and punched him in the mouth!  He stood there bleeding - clueless about what to do, what happened or why - when one of the kids from his class yelled out “Somebody help Nicky!”  Combine this with all imagined scenarios - from predators to just inappropriate, and there’s enough “what if’s” to keep me taking him in the ladies room forever!    

Okay, I know that’s not an option.  I don’t want to be the mom who you see sneaking her mustache growing teenage son into public ladies rooms ignoring how he might feel and avoiding how uncomfortable the other women in the restroom feel.  The option of inflecting torture by making him wait for a “safe” place to potty doesn’t seem like such a good idea either.  Did I just say “Potty”?   Yikes! 

Okay, once again I’m forced to grow up because he is, weather I like it or not! With his behaviorist we have created a restroom (not pottyJ) protocol plan and here it is.  There is an action list for Nicky. The list is posted on the door of  the restroom he uses at home. We started doing this at home and once he got the hang of it we began going over the list when he's in the community/school with his male therapist. Once he got it, I began using it in the community. 

Before he goes in the restroom we review the steps with him:
·         Keep a calm body and a calm voice when you go in.
·         Stay focused, get in and out.
·         Don’t pull your pants down until you get in the stall
·         Close the stall door behind you
·         Don’t take your pants all the way down – only pull down the front to pee
·         Pull your pants up and do your zipper before you leave the stall
·         Wash your hands
·         Dry your hands
·         Make sure your pants are up and zipped before you leave the restroom

Then I have created a plan to keep me on track.

Outside in the community mom repeats to herself:
·         It will be okay. 
·         We can do this.
·         He will be safe.
·         I can let him learn.
·         Chester the Molester does not live in this restroom. 

Good Luck Moms and pls post any suggestions of how you handled this. Lord knows I could use all the help I can get! 


  1. It's a shame you had to deal with that comment, but I understand your panic and difficulty. I also have a boy...he has Asperger's...and although I am married, my husband is not always with me. Until we got over the hump of knowing my boy knew the rules of bathrooms (although I know there are still some bathroom rules I may not be aware of!!), I typically stood outside like you and even went so far as to push the door open a bit and talk to my son. Even though it's a bit embarrassing, it felt better than standing there being panicked by all the thoughts going through my head! You'll make it through this! It's always hard when there are people around who misunderstand, and on the good days we don't care and on the bad days we want to growl our mama bear feelings. Somehow, we keep doing what we need to do.

  2. I am so sorry you have had to meet, again as I am sure it isn't the first time, an unaware person. It is possible that the man was unaware of your child's disorder and in a sense you may be able to smile at the fact that he didn't clearly label your son as a disabled child. Hope this gives you a bit of a positive way to look at it. I too have had days like this and encountered people like this and while it angers me or bothers me at the moment I try to remember that they may not understand what my life entails.

  3. Hey Donna:

    I read you autismdaybydayblogspot posts regularly and am in awe of your wisdom and awareness. It sounds like Nicky is blossoming into a young man. How is Evyn doing? Where is she hoping to go to college? Kevin is in 11th grade but wants to stay in NYC for college (and even live at home, though we are hoping he changes his mind). I have not been to LA for almost four years and miss you and the rest of my friends there a lot.

    Please let me know what is going on with you.


  4. I think of these as teachable moments. I will look at the man--with neither scorn nor joy--and just say, "That's my son and he has autism. We're trying to teach him many things and this is one of them." It might open a dialogue or the gent could just walk away but it is a start to raising awareness.

  5. WEll, for what it's worth, I still take my 11 year old son with ASD into the Ladies Room, and I have no intention of stopping. Ladies, you will just have to be patient and understand. I will be that lady taking my mustacheoed son into the safer (and cleaner) ladies room.

  6. Hi Donna, Happy New Year, great story, I remember similar episodes raising two daughters, and experiencing that helpless filling venturing into public restrooms, you're doing a great job, and you are
    an exemplary mom!

    we all love you for your courage, and perseverance!