When Nature Calls

Establishing a new routine for an individual with autism can be quite a challenge. Donald is a young man who recently came to work for me at Centering on Children. He lives with his parents and this is his first job since graduating from high school.

Our shop is in a warehouse business park where there is one bathroom in the hallway shared by all those who work in that part of the complex. Donald, partly due to a history of stomach problems, has developed a bathroom routine that has worked well in the home but now that he is using a public restroom, some aspects of his routine needed to change.

At home, Donald is not expected to flush the toilet, for the reason that his parents need to observe if any blood has passed due to his stomach problems. Also, Donald uses baby wipes because it is easier to control how many he uses. When the family tried giving Donald access to toilet paper from a dispenser, he had a hard time determining how much was appropriate for his needs.  Autism can make such judgment calls very difficult. Donald is also not accustomed to closing the door and turning a light on and off upon entering and leaving the bathroom.

At the shop, we observed Donald’s use of the bathroom for several days before deciding to create a Social Story. A social story presents a challenging situation, specific to the individual, written in the first person, in a logical sequential form. Depending on the ability of the individual, it can be in the form of pictures and/or words. Since Donald is an avid reader, this seemed like a good way to help him understand the new expectations at his workplace.


Reading this each time Donald was about to use the bathroom improved his overall performance, however, he sometimes stayed in there for long periods of time, using the space as a break room. We then added a sentence which read:


This helped, but Donald still was having problems putting it all together. So, we then created a checklist:


Donald is now having more and more independent successes in the bathroom. We get the sense that he is adapting to this new routine, doing it one way at home and another way at the workplace.

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