How do the new bathroom laws affect kids with special needs?

I’m a mom who lives in suburban Virginia with four sons, a husband, and no pets. Our oldest son is artsy, our second son is fun-loving, our fourth son is very rules conscious, and our third son is both on the autism spectrum and also intellectually impaired.

He’ll be 10 years old in May and, like his big handsome daddy, he’s tall and strapping. Most people think he’s older than he is at first glance, and at second glance, they see his autism behaviors, and clue in, that our little boy, who’s not so little anymore, is functioning on an entirely different wavelength, most often mentally unaware of what is occurring in his immediate surroundings. He has no sense of danger, almost no impulse control, and has to be constantly monitored like most parents stay on top of their toddlers. He is chronologically almost 10, can do first grade math and reading, and is only about 18 months old in a functional maturity level. While in some ways, that’s sweet and endearing, that he will remain forever young and loving, in other ways, that is often very dangerous.

Here in our northern Virginia suburb, we have many pools to which we can go, but at every single facility, in order for us to get inside the pool after signing in, we must walk through either the men’s or ladies’ locker rooms. As an all-boy-mama, when my sons were little, they walked through the ladies’ room with me, and as they grew older, I could teach them about stranger-danger; as they understood how to care for themselves and stay out of danger, they began being able to walk through the locker room of their corresponding genitals.

Not so yet with our 10 year old on the Autism spectrum; my eyes must be on him at all times, every minute of the day, for his own safety – especially out in public. That’s not only from concern over his being the victim of a predator, but more the danger of him eloping and running out onto busy highways, and engaging in all kinds of seriously dangerous behaviors if left unattended. He wears a medical alert bracelet at all times, on which it says, “Autistic/Non-Verbal” and has our phone numbers, because the chance of him eloping is such a constant danger and concern for us.

As he’s gotten older, I dread bringing him into public restrooms with me. Mothers with toddlers bring their sons into public restrooms all the time, and that’s alright. But, with my son we are subjected to exasperated sighs, the glares, the snarky and often vicious comments from other women, about my little boy being “too old to be in the ladies room.”

Usually the insults are directed at me and my poor parenting, but several times, my son, who has severe sensory issues as most people with Autism do, has had women yell right at him, telling him to GET OUT of the ladies room. He covers his ears and just starts screaming, because he is so overwhelmed by the noise echoing off bathroom tiles, and a stranger who is in his face yelling at him.

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