This is a post that I’ve been debating on writing for a while. I know that it’s probably necessary and very informational, but it’s not something people talk about very often. Hopefully you’ll learn something from this post though that helps you in some way. If so, then it was worth writing this.
Why using bathrooms may be hard for someone with autism:
1. It is a social situation.
2. It is a high sensory environment.
3. It is a germ-filled environment.
- Bathrooms are social environments. Whether you are at home using the bathroom or at work or at a park, if anyone else is in the vicinity, using the bathroom necessitates social navigation. If there is only one stall or toilet in the bathroom, there could be people waiting to use it after you. If there are multiple stalls, then there’s the added pressure of choosing a stall and the socializing that may happen with the other people in the same bathroom area.
- If someone is waiting to use the bathroom, you have to decide what is a socially acceptable amount of time to take in the bathroom. If someone sees you go into the bathroom or knows you are in the bathroom, you still have to decide what is socially acceptable only without the added pressure of knowing they are waiting just outside the door.
- If you are using a bathroom with multiple stalls, you have to decide what is an appropriate stall distance. Is it appropriate to take the next available stall or to leave a stall empty in between the one in use?
- If you’re with someone, are they the type of person that tries to talk to you while you are using the toilet or do they like to converse while washing their hands? If you’re waiting for a stall, is it appropriate to have the same conversations you would have outside of a restroom or are there conversations that are inappropriate for bathroom areas?
- Bathrooms bombard your senses.
- Bathrooms are often either the brightest or the dimmest places in a building. Most bathrooms either have multiple lights or have large LED ceiling lights. If the bathrooms aren’t well maintained, some of the lights may not be working, making it very dim.
- Bathrooms tend to be very loud. There’s the noise of toilets flushing, water running, shoes walking on tile, toilet paper unrolling and tearing, the door opening and closing, and then any noise that people in the bathroom are making. The sounds in bathrooms are often also magnified because the walls and tile tend to echo the noises inside the bathroom.
- Bathrooms can often have strong smells associated with them. Sometimes these are the smells of cleaning materials or air freshener. Sometimes it’s the smell of feces or urine or mold. Sometimes it’s the smell of people that used or are currently using the bathroom. Sometimes it’s simply the smell of water or the walls.
- Bathrooms are usually small, enclosed areas and so everything is very close together and can seem even more sensory invading because of that.
- Then of course, is your own use of the bathroom. Whether you are using the toilet or washing your hands or taking a shower, these are all incredibly strong sensory experiences in and of themselves.
- Bathrooms are full of germs. They may not have as many germs as your kitchen sink because they’re not dealing with raw meat, but they’re still pretty germ-filled.
- If you have a problem with the feeling of dirt or grime on your hands, then using the bathroom makes you want to scrub your hands for an inordinate amount of time sometimes.
So what can you do if your child has a hard time using the restroom?
- Emphasize that waiting to use the bathroom makes the problem worse. By not using the restroom when needed, you can cause constipation or make current constipation worse.
- Provide social skills and guidelines for restroom etiquette, how to respond if someone attempts to talk to you in the restroom, and how long is appropriate to stay in the bathroom and where/ when those guidelines apply.
- Normalize the use of the restroom. If kids see the bathroom as an anomaly or a nuisance, they’re less likely to want to use it when needed.