For a variety of reasons, some individuals with autism must wear diapers, even as adults. Many challenges accompany the need for diapers. It is often difficult to locate family bathrooms that allow us to assist people of different genders. It is not always convenient to carry the necessary supplies for changing diapers. Other logistical issues also arise. But this podcast is about respect as it relates to diapers and other bathroom related issues.
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STRATEGIES. First, let’s take a look at the issue of respecting privacy. I often hear family members, teachers, and other caregivers say to an individual with autism, “Let’s go change your diaper.” That phrase is spoken in public forums such as classrooms, family gatherings, and dinner tables. Even if our friend with autism does not appear to be embarrassed or even if he is just four years old, it would certainly be more respectful to say quietly, “Please come with me,” or “Let’s go wash our hands.”
Another issue that arises is confusion over the different terms used for the restroom. It can be called a bathroom, a restroom, a toilet, the ladies room, the men’s room, or the john. The very nature of communication deficits related to autism stands in the way of making quick shifts between terms. One of my young adult friends with autism was asked by a friend if he needed to go to the bathroom. Taking that term very literally, the young man replied, “No, I took a bath last night.”
And, speaking of terms, parents might want to consider avoiding childish terms to describe “going to the restroom.” If a youngster with autism learns to say “pee-pee” when he is three years old, he is likely to use that same term when he is fifty-three.
The same can be true when we use anatomically correct words to label parts of the body. Sometimes folks with autism are unable to distinguish between words that are “o.k.” at home talking to parents and words that are more appropriate in social situations. A good rule of thumb is to use words at home that can also be said in earshot of strangers in a restaurant or Walmart.
So, these are just some ideas to consider when dealing with private issues. It is up to us to set the tone for privacy and respect.
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