Issues related to personal privacy multiply as children with autism grow into pre-teens and teens and adults. We cannot assume these youngsters will be able to successfully dress out for gym class or that a young lady will know how to handle personal hygiene issues unique to girls. Other issues related to personal privacy arise for individuals who are not independent and who need assistance with their personal care.
AGE APPROPRIATE TERMINOLOGY. 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 if the youngster is in a high school math class or at a basketball game or at summer camp for teens. So, it might be wise to start using phrases like, “Bathroom, please” even with toddlers.
RESPECTING PRIVACY. Occasionally in high-school classrooms or other public settings, I hear well-meaning caregivers say something like, “Come with me, Louise. It is time to change you diaper” or “I can’t believe you soaked through that diaper.” Even if that person has very limited language skills or has significant developmental disabilities, it would certainly be more respectful to walk over to the person and quietly say, “Please come with me, Louise.” It is also incumbent upon caregivers to make certain any changing of clothing or diapers occurs out of sight of other people.
LOCKER ROOM ROUTINES. Parents or teachers might need to help some individuals with autism learn the step-by-step procedure for changing into gym clothes and then changing back into street clothes. The whole process will be different from dressing at home, and, out of necessity, youngsters must dress, store clothes, and get to class in a very short time frame. If a youngster is not able to get dressed in a timely manner, someone can help them develop an efficient routine and let them practice the routine in the empty locker room.
GIRL ISSUES. Young ladies with autism may need some specific training in order to learn appropriate ways to take care of personal hygiene at school, summer camp, or other public settings when they begin their monthly period. This will probably require teaching her every step of the process, and she may need some assistance for a bit of time, or maybe permanently.
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NOTE TO READERS AND LISTENERS: 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. Feel free to send me an email with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solution. Send email to talk@FAQautism.com And don’t forget to check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism. http://FAQautism.com