TW: Toileting and autism (All pieces that I write on autistic people also apply to autistic adults, however I will often use the term "autistic children" based on the number of families here seeking information and support).
When our autistic children appear as though they have formed "habits" and our professionals advise that we should intervene and teach them coping skills, it's important to go gently.
These are not habits, but solutions.
As autistic people, we often find ourselves in loops, rituals, routines, or engaged in a particular behaviour because we have felt it difficult to be in a particular situation and found a solution.
An example is a child who may wait until bath time to have a bowel movement.
A parent or carer may scold them for doing so, however, there may be very important reasons for this happening.
An autistic child who is using pull ups or continence underwear is still a child. And should be treated as such.
It may be that they are not yet feeling ready or comfortable with using an adult toilet, or they may be experiencing anxiety around the event itself.
They may also be experiencing very typical emotions and nervousness about their body being exposed, their private parts being cleaned as all children would.
Having a bowel movement in the bath, may be their solution. Not a habit. And to be honest, they've actually been extremely resourceful in finding that solution from an internalised process alone.
Shaming them or reprimanding them would have a catastrophic impact on their sense of safety and wellbeing, along with their self esteem and self worth.
Knowing the fragility and the anxiety around this experience, we would approach the situation with sensitivity and respect for the child.
We can gently encourage other ways of doing things, finding new solutions, but NEVER through force.
And NEVER because WE decide for them without serious consideration what is a habit VS what is a solution.
Every thought, every consideration, every approach should be culturally respectful, keeping in mind that autistic people are not non autistic people and we are on our own timeline of development with differing needs and solutions in a world that is largely not considerate of us.
Image Credit: Jonas Mohamadi
(Image description: A photo of young boy with his hands in his pockets. He is outside, trees flank his sides. The background is out of focus.)
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