“My son is 10 years old and still says ‘Go pee-pee?’ when he needs to go to the bathroom. This has caused some issues with other students at school and with kids on his baseball team. We’ve talked to him about it, but he still blurts out without thinking. He doesn’t seem to be doing it on purpose – maybe it is just a habit. HELP!”
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STRATEGIES. Because individuals with autism are concrete thinkers and are often resistant to change, it is a good idea to choose words and phrases carefully, even when kids are toddlers. It is socially acceptable for a three-year-old to say, “Go pee-pee?” or “Go tinkle?” but it can raise eyebrows as the youngster grows up. So, it might be wise to start using phrases like, “Bathroom, please” even with toddlers. But, your question is about strategies of changing this habit now that your son is 10 years old. Every kid responds to different strategies for shaping appropriate behaviors, but you probably want to develop a pro-active plan rather than reacting critically by saying something like “I’ve told you not to say that!” or “Don’t say pee-pee again.” Here are some ideas we used several years ago when helping a young man with autism who is now 12 years old learn more socially appropriate phrases.
1. First, carefully select a phrase so you can help your youngster learn what TO say. Think about phrases that are appropriate for school, baseball team, and even a job 20 years from now. For example, consider teaching him to say, “Excuse me. I need to go to the bathroom,” or “I’ll be back in a minute.”
2. When helping shape this new habit, you might want to consider introducing the new concept with a brief comment about growing up, then use some visual cues to get your point across. For example, you could write the words “go pee-pee” on a piece of paper, then draw a big red “X” across that phrase. You might even have your son go throw that paper in the trash. Then say something like, “You are a young man who plays on a baseball team and goes to school. Now you want to say, ‘Excuse me, I’m going to the bathroom.” Write that new phrase on an index card that can be folded and put in his pocket or can be taped on the bathroom mirror. Then practice the new phrase by role-playing different situations at school and at home. Sometimes you play the part of the teacher or coach, and sometimes you play the part of the student and let your youngster play the part of the teacher or the coach.
4. Be patient and positive. Without making too big a deal of it, give consistent praise privately for using the new phrase until it becomes a new habit.
NOTE TO LISTENERS AND READERS: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At FAQautism.com we are committed to providing free, practical, everyday tips for making life better for people with autism. You can click on a button to send me an email with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solutions. Check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism. www.FAQautism.com