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Video and Paper on Rules of Using a Public Restroom for Autism Population

Restroom Managing Editor's Note: Our friend's Dennis Debbaudt and Stephen Shore granted us permission to run this video. I was just blown away by how important it is. We use video modeling for small children on the spectrum. This is a version for older kids and adults to learn lifeskills. The first available is on the use of a public restroom. A paper follows the video, please scroll down.

Using a Public Restroom by Dr. Liane Holliday Willey , Dr. Stephen Shore and, Dennis Debbaudt

This short video excerpt from Debbaudt Legacy Productions in progress video Autism & Safe Travel with Dr. Stephen Shore© 2010 illustrates what some of the public men’s room social rules and violations can be.

This video depicts some options and tips for persons on the spectrum, family and educators about social and safety considerations when using a public restroom.

Social Rules for Using a Public Men’s Room

While singing in the shower at home or in your hotel room’s washroom is perfectly acceptable social behavior, carrying a tune or talking in a public men’s room is not. Silence in the men’s room is expected and normal. Silence, in this case, is golden.  

Men who violate the rules of the men’s room risk consequences that include others becoming suspicious of the motives of the violator, confronting the violator or reporting the violator to authorities. Worse, perhaps, is that the violator is thought to be someone looking for an illegal sexual liaison. Difficult interactions with sexual adventurers could result. Police conduct undercover operations to root out this illegal activity. Those who get caught in the sting will be questioned, perhaps arrested.

So, what’s a guy to do? What if you are merely unaware of the rules and customs of using a public men’s room and violate them without any illegal or untoward intent? The outcome can range from unexpected delays to having to explain your behavior to startled, angry strangers to unwanted sexual advances and contacts with the police.

The social rules in the public men’s room include:

• avoiding eye contact
• choosing a urinal or stall as far away from the other person as possible
• looking straight ahead or up and down when using a urinal or stall
• washing up and walking out without engaging in conversation  Social Rules for Using a Public Ladies Room differ from the men’s room. Chit chat conversation is normal. For example, asking another woman where they got their blouse or t-shirt or giving a compliment on their appearance is OK.
Eye contact is typically acceptable. It is not, however, standard to talk to ladies in the public restroom, once you are using the stall. An exception?  Passing toilet paper under a stall divider to a stranger in need who asks is not considered an unusual or suspicious activity.

For Educators: The norms in a ladies room, however, would be considered unacceptable behavior in a public men’s room. Moms and female teachers should carefully consider the male and female social differences of restroom use. Strongly consider the input, direction, advice and participation of safe, willing men that can model and teach restroom rules to male students.

Social and Personal Safety Tips for using either a ladies or men’s public restroom: 

A public restroom can be found at interstate rest areas, airports, restaurants and most public buildings. A private restroom is the one at your home and, to a lesser degree, your hotel room. Remember that hotel walls are notoriously thin. The songs you sing can be heard in the next room!

Do not comment on the noises you hear coming from another stall! If someone is ill or needs your help, they will likely speak out to ask for help. If however, you do think someone is in a situation that requires serious help, seek out and ask a restroom attendant, store manager or security personnel for assistance. 

Anyone using the public restroom is in a vulnerable position that a criminal could easily take advantage of. Be aware of your surroundings and do what you can to keep yourself out of harm's way. If you are all alone when you go a public restroom, extra careful to lock your stall door behind you and select a stall near the exit so you can make a fast escape if you absolutely had to.

Additional Social and Personal Safety Tips for using a either male or female public restroom:

• Keep stall doors locked
• Watch your purse, briefcase, wallet and personal belongings
• Use long strap with pull twist to secure your bags to the stall door hook
• Do not carry large amounts of cash
• If possible, carry a cell phone

Here are few tips in case you do need to contact or interact with security or law enforcement:

• Carry and know how to safely produce an ID card
• Develop and carry an autism information card
• Carry the phone numbers of trusted and reliable relatives and friends

If you lose the ability to speak when under stress, consider wearing a MedicAlert bracelet or one that lets the reader know this and that you have an information card.

Develop a Plan for Safe Use of a Public Restroom

1. Discuss the risks with people that you trust
2. Develop a personal plan of how you will use the restroom
3. Practice safe use of the restroom by role playing with people you know and trust
4. Develop a generic or personal disclosure handouts
5. Role play when, where and how you would use them
6. Adapt and amend your plan. They're not written in stone.

We hope the "Rules of the Mens' Room" video excerpt was useful for you. Don't forget, when you're using a public restroom, safety is about you and your belongings!



This is great. Thanks to Steven! I'll have to show my son. I've sent him in to the Men's/boys bathroom and waited outside several times. He's 10 and I want him to be able to use the mens room...However he has come out several times with his pants around his ankles and he takes too long... Other boys have laughed, makes me sad. I can't keep taking him into the ladies room forever we need these types of PSA's to teach them...


Once when my Autistic son used the urinal in a public restroom, he screamed out to the man in the next urinal, "I SEE YOUR PENIS AND BUTT-I'm TELLING!!!" After the man came out of the restroom in a huff looking for the mother(me) of this "horrible child who was making fun of him", I realized he also had a disability. (This man had deformed arms and legs and walked with a cane) I always send my other son in with him because he refuses to use the Ladies Room at 11 yrs. old. I tell him to use the stall but he says that "Real Men" use the urinals.


From "across the pond":- In the UK it's possible to gain access to the "Disabled" toilet now provided in all public buildings - a room large enough to get a wheelchair inside with space for a companion to help the physically disabled wheelchair user. I had to pay a few pounds to my local authority for a key because my ASD daughter couldn't bear to queue (her tolerance has improved, the key's still in my purse). The limited access was intended to avoid "public misuse". N.B. I commend the producers of the video - add a laurel wreath to the plaudits.


There was a time that I knew where every bathroom was in Bardstown, Kentucky. I mean every where. The grocery store, the way too and from WalMart, The Dollar Store, and etc.

I knew where every bathroom was in Elizabethtown, Kentucky.

I knew every place that was easy to pull over on the road between my parent's and our house (one hour and 45 minutes away) home.


Because my son had to instantly have to suddenly pee - not I have to go in a few minutes - it is like he had no feeling untill he suddenly had to go right then and there. Not only that but my daughter had to instantly vomit all the time too.

The old Walmart had only one woman's and one man's bathroom - I had to take my son into which ever one was empty. Which meant some times the MEN'S bathroom.

The looks I got coming out of that little Men's bathroom with my son??? People are sometimes so stupid about things. AND the comment I got one time from one male employee who proudly said to another male shopper "I've got women coming for me everywhere" %*&* I have a kid with autism and he suddenly had to go.

One time my son did pee all over the floor, and I left the store quickly. I hope that male employee had to mop it up?

So now I wonder if little boys have Mom's only that takes them into the bathrooms- how do they learn these social issuses to begin with even if they are normal little ones?

Andrew Gammicchia

Visit the LEAN On Us Facebook Fan page for great discussions on a variety of topics regarding individuals with disabilities and crime prevention and training.

There is also an entire photo album of free resources specific to ASD.

Also visit www.leanonus.org for free safety cards, 911 database entry sheets, ASD pocket cards, etc.

Andrew Gammicchia

Dr. Peter Gerhardt was the first person to present on this topic and does a wonderful job on addressing sexuality issues.

Something missed here...don't forget to not drop your pants. Parents the importance of regular pants w/ a fly, no elastic waisted as kids get older, to allow for privacy.

Our son with ASD used to have to totally disrobe to go to the bathroom. So we really had to work on this skill of using public restrooms for a while.

I'd urge parents also to really do this in the actual setting. There is no way to practice this.

For more tips on safety issues visit the LEAN On Us webpage.

The ASA website also have an entire series of materials created to service victims of crime with ASD that were done via a Department of Justice/OVC Grant. They are free and well worth it.

Managing Editor for Cheryl - Thanks

Cheryl, that's a good critical comment. I'll pass it along to Stephen and Dennis if they haven't read it alreadyd. Thanks for commenting at AoA.


Cheryl G

Good video, but I would ditch the annoying music. Yes, I'm an adult with Aspergers, and that music is REALLY annoying. It distracts from the video.

Terri Lewis

Thank you.

This information can be copied and used in school settings everywhere, as well as being passed from father to son or mother to son.


This is great. When Dennis, Stephen, and I were helping the Chicago Police Department get up to speed on specialized autism training, the CPD relayed to me the story of an "almost" arrest involving an unescorted young adult with autism who was pointing at a little boy in the restroom of a ballpark here. "Pointing", mind you, not "touching". The kid's dad was peeved that the young man wasn't hauled off to jail and gave the cops an earful but it sounded like they did the right thing. Unfortunately, that happens all too infrequently and there is danger everywhere. Bathrooms, school buses, shopping malls, the neighbor's house...simply everywhere. According to experts many with autism are "perfect victims". Safety resources can be accessed here:

First and foremost though, everyone with autism should be taught basic water safety. This recommendation should be in every "initial diagnosis" packet.


This is useful information for anybody! Who teaches guys to wash their hands afterward, or to zip up BEFORE leaving the bathroom? And women, please, wipe up after yourselves!


Thank you Dennis Debbaudt and Stephen Shore for this great teaching tool and AOA for posting it!

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