Autism and Public Restrooms

Autism and Public Restrooms

At what age can our child with autism use a public bathroom by themselves?

Because my child has autism, he’s not typical, I’ll direct this blog to autism-only.

However, I will focus in on a recent encounter with my autistic son.

Where was this?

An incident happened regarding the men’s locker room at my gym.

Since my son was about eight and had been in the men’s locker room to use the facilities.

When I go to the gym, we usually show up and I ask him to use the bathroom before I take him to the child care.

I wait outside in the hallway.

When he comes out, I take him to the child care. He stays there while I work out.

What happened?

Iʼm a mom with a boy.

Before the age of eight, I had taken my son with me into womenʼs bathrooms and locker rooms for most of his life.

Probably longer than a mom would take a typical child because I felt for a long time that he would get too distracted on his own. He does have autism.

When I recognized that he got too old to go into the womenʼs locker room with me, I begin this new routine.


I am always concerned about the potential for inappropriate behavior.

Because of my fears, I backslid a bit on my policy over the summer when my son and I traveled alone together. There were times I just didn’t feel comfortable letting him go into a public men’s bathrooms by himself. I had him go with me or I looked for a “family” bathroom.

Are locker rooms different and what happened with this incident?

Of course, locker rooms are different for both men and women. The women at my gym don’t want an older boy inside their locker room.

What about a family bathroom?

Here’s where we got into some trouble.

My gym does not provide a “family” (RE: unisex) bathroom. They only have a women’s locker room and a men’s locker room. That’s all.

On the ride to my gym one morning, a fidget toy with some kind of liquid in it broke. The liquid got all over my son’s hands. It was blue and I had no idea if it was non-toxic.

By the time we pulled into the gym parking lot, my son was upset. He desperately wanted “the blue stuff” off his hands. I wanted if off, too.

The lack of a unisex bathroom at my gym is a problem for mothers with sons and dads with daughters.

As I went into the gym, I knew I had to help my son clean his hands. I felt I had no option. I couldn’t just let him go into the men’s bathroom and do it himself.

Into the women’s bathroom

I took him into the women’s bathroom. We went directly to a sink and focused on cleaning his hands.

As you can guess, the presence of my son created some problems. There were two women in the locker room who did not like having him in there.

They complained to management.

A few minutes later, management yelled at me.

What was the bottom line?

I didn’t mind so much getting yelled at.

What I minded were the lack of options. This is about autism and public restrooms. With the lack of a family bathroom.

What was I supposed to do?

As I mentioned above, I probably took him into a women’s locker room at an age older than typical children went in with their mothers. I always tried to take him off to the side bathroom. My goal was to try to be somewhat respectful.

In other words, men’s locker rooms simply made me too nervous.


My son has autism and, for a long time, I felt he did not understand what is appropriate and what isnʼt.

I would talk to him about it. He did have to learn if someone ever talked to him in a “bad” way and what to do it that happened. Who to talk to (me or his Daddy or an adult).

I have also talked to him about other people looking at his body in a “bad“ way. I have tried to explain “inappropriate” as best as I could.

Even at age twelve, I’m still not sure that he quite gets it. Perhaps some twelve-year-olds do, but I’m not yet convinced mine does.

More to it

Additionally, I need to make sure that he understands that he has to use his own appropriate behavior in a menʼs locker room. He has his own responsibilities.

What issues did this raise?

Where was the unisex bathroom? What was I supposed to do?

The owner of the gym informed me that I could have used their utility closet which has a sink.

How nice of him.

He also said that one of his male employees could have acted as chaperone to take my son into the men’s locker room.

I never knew that, either.

How do I feel about it?

I was wrong to bring an older boy into a womenʼs locker room.

However, I saw no other option.

The sensitivities

The wish the women who complained would have talked to me first. Maybe I could have explained why I was bringing in my son. I certainly would have pointed out the lack of a unisex bathroom. Perhaps, they could have understood a bit.

They had a legitimate beef, but there was no proper communication or facilities established.

To all the mothers out there who have similar issues (they have to take their sons to the women’s bathroom), you might want to talk to management to come up with safe and satisfying alternative. You can’t just let people complain without providing an option.

No disclosure

Maybe I did it because I wasn’t prepared to discuss my son’s autism. Telling the gym, “Hey, he has autism, you have no unisex bathroom, so give me a break,” didn’t occur to me.

I should have.

These situations can be handled in more appropriate ways.

That way, awkward situations can be avoided.

I like this article on autism and public places. It’s straight forward and thoughtful.

More on Kimberly Kaplan:
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or “A Parentsʼ Guide to Early Autism Intervention” visit Amazon (print or digital) or Smashwords
Twitter: tipsautismmom
LinkedIn: Kimberly Kaplan
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