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We Need More Family Restrooms

Family Room Sign_Lisa Quinones Fontanez_Babble

I snapped a photo of the Family Room sign in a Westchester mall.

A mother and her eight-year-old son are out enjoying the day. The son says he has to use the bathroom. Does the mother:

(a) Take her son into a ladies’ room

(b) Send him into a men’s room

(c) Search until she finds a single unisex bathroom and stands guard outside the door

(d) Curse that there aren’t more family restrooms available

I don’t know what you would do, but (if I couldn’t find a unisex bathroom) I would take my son into the ladies room, while cursing under my breath because there isn’t a family restroom available. And if I had to use the ladies’ room, not only would my son be in the ladies’ room, but he’d be in the stall with me.

My son, Norrin, will be eight in January. And he’s a pretty big kid. The older (and bigger) Norrin gets, the more awkward I feel about bringing him into the ladies’ room. But Norrin has autism and while he is quite verbal, he cannot be left unsupervised. He needs constant redirection and prompting. Norrin cannot tell me if someone has touched him inappropriately. 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 assumed sons in the ladies room was just a concern for special needs parents. I had no idea parents of “typical” kids worry about this too. Recently, other Babble Kid bloggers have wondered if their sons are too old for the ladies’ room. But there is a huge difference between their concerns and mine.

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, another milestone among many. It’s something added to IEPs. We discuss strategies with other parents and therapists. We wait. And we hope.

Being an autism parent can be incredibly isolating. Raising a kid with an invisible disability makes parents susceptible to so much judgement. The older my son gets, bringing him into the ladies’ room will raise eyebrows. Unlike parents of typical kids, I don’t wonder when Norrin will be able to use public restrooms alone, I wonder if he’ll be able to use them alone.

Family restrooms are few and far between, but whenever I see one, it feels like a little luxury. I can waltz in with Norrin without judgement. It’s where I’d feel comfortable teaching Norrin how to navigate a public bathroom. Family restrooms allow my son the dignity he deserves. I just wish there were more of them. Don’t you?

 

Catch up with me on Babble:

Read more of Lisa’s writing at AutismWonderland.

And don’t miss a post! Follow Lisa on Twitter and Facebook!

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