Strange topic for a blog? Not really.  We all need toilets.

Not all disabilities are visible.

This phrase should be on the outside of every disabled toilet.  There are many ‘invisible’ disabilities, autism being just one of them.  Have you ever come out of a disabled toilet accompanied by your child to be glared at by someone who obviously thinks you just used it because it meant you didn’t have to queue?

Did you apologise and try to justify why you needed to use that toilet?

I still take my ten year old into the ladies’ toilets with me.  No one has said anything to me yet. He has long hair and is so often mistaken for a girl because of it that I don’t suppose they even notice I have brought a boy in with me. But what do you do when that boy is a fully grown manchild?

What do you do if you are a father who needs to take their daughter to the toilet?  Even harder I imagine as you really don’t want to walk your daughter past men standing up urinating. So what do you do if there is no disabled toilet?

We need a campaign for genderless toilets. Recently, we took the boys to the Lyric theatre in Hammersmith. Their toilets are now labelled as ‘genderless without urinals’ (what was previously the ladies) and ‘genderless with urinals’ (previously known as the gents). They have done this to provide genderless toilets and in doing so have instantly made toilets accessible to parents or carers needing to accompany older children or adults of the opposite gender to the toilet.

One of my grown up sons was rather surprised to find himself  in the ‘ladies’ and soon departed. Most people were still using them within the old order but no one passed any judgement or looked strangely at him for being there.

What a simple and easy move it would be if all toilets were to be labelled like this.  It only requires a change of signs on the doors.  Quick and cheap.

Another area we walk in regularly, Burnham Beeches, has an outdoor block of toilets which are essentially a row of single toilets with their own doors and all are labelled for either gender. They work for us because we can stand directly outside while a child is within.  But if you need to accompany someone actually inside the toilet cubicle, they aren’t really big enough for two, so, for some people,  a larger accessible toilet is needed.

Changing places has been a campaign to provide disabled toilets with proper facilities to enable a carer to change an adult. They have height adjustable changing benches, privacy curtains and other facilities. No one should ever have to change a child or adult on a floor but this used to be the situation for many.

Finally, while on the subject of toilets. Hand dryers. The noise of many hot air hand dryers is enough to make most people jump, let alone those with autism. It’s not even a noise within our own control as they randomly go off all around us. I recently saw a post where someone was asking for recommendations of toilets in London which did not have hideously noisy dryers. Safe toilets for those with noise sensitive autism to use.  I don’t know what the alternative to hot air dryers is? Back to those enormous laundered towel rolls perhaps?


Making and Remembering Memories

As the washing machine rattles through yet another load of washing and I download all my holiday photos, I reflect on our latest holiday.

‘Making memories’ is how people often describe holidays but it is so much more than that. It’s also remembering memories of past holidays.

We only took the boys on holidays which we could drive to when they were small. It was all we could afford.  The financial cost of three tribunals drained us and caused us to need lodgers in our family house alongside our children.

But also, it was all we could manage practically.  The thought of airports and flying when the boys were very young was daunting.  Piling them into a car, taking everything they might want, boxes of brio trains, clothes for every weather we might expect along with video players and even a television once when travelling to France.

It was a chance to have a break from tutors and school and work. Not much of a break for us parents though as we always went self catering and the boys needed their routines as usual.  Time to be together as a family for more than just the usual two days at weekends.

The boys have phenomenal memories. They remember so much about previous holidays.

We last visited the Isle of Wight eight years ago. Marcus was only just three so he has no recollection of that holiday. The other boys do.  They describe their memories visually which makes sense. They can’t really read brochures or guide books so when we might recall a place and label it by its name eg a village or a beach, they picture a place. Their language is now so much better that they are able to describe that place to us or an individual memory of something that occurred.

We took them back to the model village at Godshill. As soon as we approached the main street, they remembered it all. Hector had been talking about a teapot. Yes, there was still a giant teapot in a children’s area. There was also an incident with a teapot in a shop remembered with glee by Hector and guilt by Benjamin. We had risked taking the boys very briefly into a gift shop to buy some chocolate. Bad decision. Benjamin spied a china teapot and could not resist picking it up and … dropping it. The owner was so kind. We were mortified.  Benjamin identified the shop again this visit. We said, ‘It didn’t matter, you hadn’t meant to break it, it was just an accident. You don’t need to feel bad about something that happened years ago. It was just a teapot’.

There is a model railway in the model village. On our last visit, it felt like we had spent hours sitting on a bench while the boys darted from side to side watching the trains. This time, it was only Benjamin who was still excited to see them so we left him and his camera to watch them while we wandered further round. We didn’t need to stay with him, he would find us.

My memory of the Isle of Wight eight years ago is of four very dependent children who could not be left alone for a moment.

My new memory will be of four, chatty, interested boys who for the first time ever, we left alone in the house while we walked along the coast for half an hour.  They have phones so they could contact us. Unlike at home, there were no callers to the holiday house to have to negotiate – one of our biggest issues still to overcome and teach. Little steps. Slowly, slowly.