Parents on the spectrum face a seemingly-endless series of big, scary questions. Will my child make friends? Can he maintain focus through the school day? Will be be able to express all the knowledge he’s absorbing? What will his life be like as an adult?
And then, there are far more mundane questions – ones that can be just as challenging – like, “Where can I find a public bathroom that won’t terrify my kid?”
Every kid on the spectrum – every kid period – is different. But one thing a lot of kids with sensory issues have in common is a major aversion to loud mechanical noises. And public bathrooms have increasingly become very noisy, mechanical places. When my son was younger, he wouldn’t go near an automatic-flush toilet; the damned things terrified him.
An aside – I was once pulled over for speeding on the Bronx River Parkway. The police officer asked if I knew I was speeding. I replied, yes, sir… but my son really has to go to the bathroom. He took one look at the little guy’s pained expression and let me off with a warning. I didn’t share the fact that we had just left a movie theater – one that had dozens of completely functional toilets that my son refused to use because he was afraid of the auto-flush mechanism.
He’s (mostly) over that these days. But hand-dryers have become a far bigger issue. Especially this kind:
My worst public-bathroom nightmare… these things.
XLERATOR-brand hand dryers seem to be the new industry standard. They’re popping up everywhere. First place I saw them was Target. Over the summer, we saw them in Six Flags, along with a glossy poster touting how great they are for the environment. I took this photo at our favorite pizza joint. And this morning, I noticed that they’ve been installed in my son’s school.
Why am I keeping a mental list of the places that feature this particular brand of hand dryer? Because they absolutely terrify my son.
They’re about as loud as the average jet engine, a problem made worse by the fact that they’re usually found in somewhat cramped rooms with tile walls and floors. Acoustically, those are ideal conditions for taking loud, unpleasant noises louder and more unpleasant.
Now, I’m not going to start a campaign to have the dryers removed from Six Flags or my son’s school or anywhere else. Yes, they make his life a little harder than it should be, but that’s an unavoidable fact of life, just like the sirens on fire engines, the occasional jackhammer, and my neighbor’s motorcycle, which seems not to have a muffler of any kind. I am hoping that this post will reach at least one person that is in a position to make decisions about bathroom appliances at some public toilet in the greater New York metropolitan area, and that he or she opts for a dryer that won’t evoke memories of LaGuardia Airport. Or even – gasp – old fashioned paper towels.
A Step in the Right Direction
I never really though to speak out about this before. Every kid has his or her own hangups, this one is my son’s, and because he’s on the spectrum, it’s a bit more pronounced than it might be in another child. But I saw something while on vacation that changed my mind.
On the door of the family restroom – the smaller, one-person bathroom with changing table for babies, etc. – at a rest-stop on the New York Thruway, someone had posted an extra sign, which read, “Manual Flush Toilet.” That would seem to indicate that I’m not the only one on the lookout for such things.
And if you’re the person who hung that sign, well done, sir or madam. I thank you.