|This may not seem like much but in our world, THIS IS A BIG DEAL!|
The picture of the sign went viral and sparked a debate about when a child should enter a public bathroom alone.
Personally I think 6 is way too young, even 7 or 8 is too young. And what is the big deal anyway? There are stalls and doors with locks and privacy. Women bringing boys into the ladies room really shouldn’t be that big a deal. Apparently it is.
It makes me wonder if Norrin were a “typical” 9-year-old boy, would he still come into the bathroom with me or would I allow him to venture into the men’s room solo.
But Norrin’s an atypical kid. He cannot be left unsupervised. He needs constant redirection and prompting. And while Norrin is verbal and can communicate his needs, he cannot tell me if someone has touched him inappropriately or hurt him. He has difficulty picking up social cues. Left unattended in a public bathroom, he could easily bang on the stall doors, reach into the garbage, eat something off the floor, walk out without pulling up his pants or not clean himself properly.
I mean…do you even know what it takes to get a child with autism potty trained? Let alone, trying to train them to go into a public bathroom on their own.
Norrin’s Spring Break is in a few weeks and usually I pick one day to bring him into the office to hang out with me. I’ve been at my job for 10 years. Norrin’s been coming to work with me before he could even walk. And during the potty training years, I didn’t even think about bringing him into the ladies room with me. But he’s 9. And it’s my office. It’s supposed to be a safe environment. Yet I still don’t feel comfortable sending him into the men’s room alone. Most people know that Norrin has autism. Some people don’t. After years of bringing him into work with me, I feel like it has to come to an end – because of the whole bathroom thing. Because I don’t know if every woman in my office would be okay with it. And if I sent him into the men’s room alone, I don’t know if they’d be would be okay with it either. I fear that they may quietly complain.
Parents of typical kids know that one day their kids will be able to navigate a public restroom independently. For special needs parents, it’s a goal, a hope, another milestone among many.
Some perspective: You know why I stopped to take the picture of Norrin drying his hands in the ladies room? Because there was a time when he wouldn’t even enter any bathroom if he saw one of these in there – he was that scared. He’d fight his way out if he saw it. He’d cry and scream if it went off. When he learned to tolerate the noise, he refused to use the dryer. On this day, he put his hands under the dryer on his own. It took us years to get to this. YEARS. The day he enters the men’s room alone, I’ll probably take a picture of him walking out.
Last year I wrote about why we need more family bathrooms. Family bathrooms make life so much easier. I could waltz right in and not have to worry about a thing. It would be a great way to practice going into the bathroom alone – I could send him in and follow a few seconds later to make he does what he’s supposed to. Whenever I see them, I use them.
Because when I bring my son into the ladies room, it’s a reality check. It’s a reminder of the gap between typical and atypical. The older Norrin gets, it becomes less of a choice but rather a necessity.
I would love to give him more independence, but he’s just not ready and I know he’s safest with me. But I will not always be around – what then? And that thought spirals into every why, when, how come and will he question possible.
So until there are family rooms everywhere and until Norrin is able to enter a men’s room alone – he will continue to come in with me. And if you see my son – or anyone else’s son – in the ladies room, don’t question, stare or shake your head in disgust. Don’t let your daughter laugh or point at my son for using the ladies room. Don’t judge me or wonder about him without putting yourself in our shoes and thinking about why we’re both there.