Sunday, March 23, 2014

Family Restrooms

One of the nicest features about the town where we live is the variety of local parks. Recently, our city leaders have sought input regarding the renovation of two older parks and the expansion of the newest park. A group of parents in our community whose children have special needs have done research, discussed ideas, collaborated, and presented ways that these parks could better accommodate people with disabilities. From considering alternatives to mulch under playground equipment that would be easier for wheelchair access to investigating the best swings for special needs children, these parents have made requests that would benefit not only their children but also other children now and in the future who have similar needs. Besides accessibility to playgrounds, these parents have suggested that the parks offer family restrooms. Seeing the value of this concept, the parks department has indicated that the expansion of the newest park and the redevelopment of the old children’s playground will indeed include family restrooms.

While we are fortunate that Alex does not have major physical limitations and is toilet trained, we would have concerns about his using a public restroom without one of us being there to assist him. When we do things as a family, Ed could take him to the restroom if needed, but when I take Alex places by myself, I worry that he will need to go to the bathroom. Since he is now twenty-two years old and six feet tall, he wouldn’t be easy to sneak into the women’s restroom with me, but in an emergency, that’s what would have to happen. Trying to avoid this scenario, before we leave the house, I ask Alex repeatedly, “Do you need to go to the bathroom before we leave? Are you sure you won’t need to go while we’re out? Don’t you think you should go now? When did you last go to the bathroom? Are you positive you don’t need to go to the bathroom before we go?” After the barrage of questions, Alex usually just decides it’s easier to make a quick trip to the bathroom before we leave than to listen to my nagging. Still, I worry when the two of us are out in public that he will need to use the restroom, and I will have to figure out the best way to accommodate his need. Family restrooms would be the ideal solution for us.

In doing some reading about family restrooms, I realized that these facilities not only benefit children with special needs who require the assistance of parents or caregivers but also any parents of children of the gender opposite theirs. For example, fathers would prefer not to take their young daughters into the men’s room, but they may not be comfortable with their daughters going into the women’s restroom alone. Or, as in my case, mothers don’t want their sons going into the men’s room alone but realize that other women may not be comfortable with boys, or especially a young man, being in the ladies’ room. In addition, older people with disabilities may prefer family restrooms so that their spouses can assist them. With Alex we have two primary concerns regarding using a public restroom alone. First, his lack of social skills could make him vulnerable to a negative interaction with others. He could be easy prey to someone taking advantage of his gullibility, or someone may find his awkward behavior, such as not giving enough personal space, annoying or threatening. Another issue we are currently dealing with is his carelessness about making certain he pulls up his pants completely after toileting. Without our reminding and even help with adjusting his clothing, he could offend others by having his rear end partially exposed. Family restrooms could prevent any of those scenarios for us.

As this discussion regarding the addition of family restrooms in the city parks has evolved, parents of special needs children on a local Facebook group have noted and shared locations of family restrooms in the area, including stores, restaurants, libraries, and fitness clubs. This discussion has made me much more aware of family restrooms with the hopes that if I know where they are, I’ll never need to use one with Alex. Yesterday, we took him to the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center to view the various exhibits they have in conjunction with our nearby state park. As this was my first time to visit the center, I noted the various displays and amenities offered to visitors and was surprised to see that in addition to the restrooms for men and women, a third option was available—a family restroom. Although we didn’t need to use this facility, I was pleased that the visitor center offers this accommodation for those who do need it.

With the increasing rates of autism, more and more parents are going to find themselves caring for children and eventually adults with autism. As we try to integrate our children in the community by taking them out in public, we will need to have restroom facilities that accommodate their special needs. Family restrooms provide an ideal solution to the problem not just for parents and caregivers of special needs people but also for any parents who do not want their children to go to public restrooms alone. Until family restrooms become more common, I’ll keep badgering Alex before he and I leave for mother-son outings and keep my fingers crossed that we never have to sneak into the women’s restroom together. However, that could make an interesting blog entry.

“Two people are better than one. They can help each other in everything they do.” Ecclesiastes 4:9


Anonymous said...

What a timely topic! My son is only 13 but I have the same issue of feeling like he is too old to go into the women's restroom with me. Unfortunately my son has an OCD about going into the restroom everytime we enter a new store. We are working on eliminating this particular ritual but in the interim I have a list of all of the stores with family or single stall restrooms. Target, Trader Joes and Petsmart are some of the retailers in our town that we visit when we have a "bathroom emergency". It's refreshing to know I'm not the only one with this issue!!

Pam Byrne said...

Thank you for your note. For many years, we were just thankful that Alex would use the toilet, but now we see the need for family restrooms, not just for autism but for many issues. Hopefully, more public places will offer family restrooms so that this is no longer a concern during outings.
Take care,