We spent the most of our Saturday an hour from home at a high school watching my oldest son with Autism and others with special needs participate in a Special Olympics athletics event. Both my boys are on opposite ends of the Autism spectrum, with my 9 year old on the severe (classic) end, and my 7 year old on the moderate to high end. Normally, I don’t think twice about my children and having to accompany them to the restrooms, they have special needs and they need to be with an adult who knows how to care for them and their needs to the restroom. However, yesterday, I got hit with two separate incidents in two separate locations that reminded me that taking my children to public restrooms was going to not only be challenging because of their needs, but because of strangers incapable of understanding and recognizing their needs.
While at the special olympics event my oldest son, who is not yet potty trained, had an accident. A major one. I took care of most of it at the car, but he still needed to be cleaned up more, and I also needed to use the restroom. I take my bag, my boys, and we head out to find the bathrooms. We find the restrooms and I head towards the ladies room with my boys. I hear a woman’s voice behind me say, “the boys restrooms are over there.” Another man says, “yeah, they’re around the corner.” I look at her and say, “yes, I know….but they need to accompany me to the restroom as they have special needs and cannot be left alone.” “Can’t you find a young man to take them to the boys restroom?” I told her that “perhaps I could, but I’m not, because I, as their mom, knows my children. I’m not going to hand them off to a stranger who doesn’t know them, just to use the restroom.” She gave me a look like she wanted to continue on, but I didn’t give her the chance and I turned and went to the restroom. You would think there would be a lot more understanding individuals at a special olympics event, but guess not.
The second time we had to face a similar incident was later on that same day. We decided that we would go out to eat at Cracker Barrel with my aunt and her family. My boys and I arrived at the restaurant earlier than they had and I decided that it was best to go to the restroom before we sit to eat. My baby boy with severe autism, requires assistance in pretty much all areas of his life. He’s nonverbal, not potty trained, requires constant redirection and prompting, and wanders/elopes. There is no way I would feel comfortable sending him to a restroom alone, and I’m not going to. My youngest is higher functioning than my oldest, yet he has several issues with being alone and cannot always communicate his needs effectively. Some days he is okay with going by himself into the men’s restroom and others I have to go in their and grab him because he’s taken too long and I find out he cannot button up his pants and he’s wandering around the urinals with his pants down. There are many instances in which I am out and about with my boys without their father so I often have to take them with me to the ladies room, and yesterday at Cracker Barrel was no different.
We enter the store area of the restaurant and we look around a little bit before we head towards to ladies room. A woman takes it upon herself to inform me that the bathroom I was walking into is for ladies. I tell her, “I know.” She then slowly repeats herself, “this is the ladies room” and to which I respond, “I know, I can read.” And then I attempt to mentally calm myself because I’m going to snap on this woman soon. And there she goes again, reminding me that I was going into the ladies room. I think I lost it, I told her that my children have special needs and I am taking them to the restroom and if she needed to grab the manager or whatever, do it, they’ll find me in the ladies bathroom. I am within my rights to take my boys to the restroom with me, as they have special needs, and require that someone accompany them. She told me that, she didn’t “know,” she couldn’t “tell.” I lit into her then. She spent the better part of 5 minutes prior (my youngest was tinkering around with the toys prior to us going to the restroom) staring at my son in his special olympics shirt, headphones, with his picture card book around his neck jumping up and down screeching all the while she wore the all too familiar “what’s wrong with him” face. She knew and she wanted to be a dick. And even if she didn’t know, she was still a dick. She then claimed she just wanted to show her daughter from an early age that it wasn’t appropriate for the boys to be in the girls’ restroom and vice versa. I told her to teach her that there are special needs people in the world that this won’t apply to.
I have reached my limit on this issue. These laws that fueled these interactions have worn me down. Spawned from some irrational fear of predatory behavior, those who support these sweeping laws don’t think of the consequences of enacting such policies. Some of these laws have clear language providing exemptions for parents of special needs children and others aren’t so clear…could us parents with opposite sex special needs children fall victim to violating such laws? Potentially. What about those same-sex couples with opposite sex children?
Common sense should tell you that a male, regardless of age, dressed in male garb, going into a ladies restroom WITH their mother is not going to sexually assault your child. Laws like the ones passed in North Carolina don’t feel anything like they’re protecting my children…if anything they’re putting me and my children in situations where we are being accosted and harassed by strangers emboldened by such laws who think they can just come up on others in an attempt to “check” them. I already knew my sons getting older would be challenging taking them to public restrooms, but I hadn’t experienced this kind of harassment for doing so in….like, ever. And since these laws and Target’s transgender friendly policy have dominated news cycles and social media, I feel like my little family is being targeted, and that isn’t right. These laws aren’t right.