Let’s Go Potty

For a variety of reasons, some individuals with autism are not toilet trained. Not being able to go to the bathroom independently raises a variety of challenges, one of which is needing reminders to go to the bathroom. Let’s look at that issue, particularly from the standpoint of privacy and respect.

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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” or “Go pee-pee before you have an accident.” I hear comments like that spoken loudly 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. Among other things, toilets are called a bathroom, a restroom, 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” or “Let’s go potty” 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 loudly in earshot of strangers in a restaurant or grocery store.

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 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 a confidential email at talk@FAQautism.com with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solution. 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

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