Potty training a child can be a very frustrating experience for many parents. Trust me, I have an almost 3.5 year old who still refuses to tell us when he has to go but will go on the toilet if we happen to time it right and put him on the potty at the precise moment. In other words, it's going slowly.
This week in Special Needs Living, aurorabunny, mom to 3.5-year old Brody, who has autism, discusses the extra difficulties that come along with potty training a child with special needs, especially one with sensory issues.
Potty Training Children with Special Needs
For some reason, when someone finds out that my son has autism, they usually ask me one of two questions. The first question is often, "Is he verbal?" which makes sense to me. Whenever I meet another parent of a child with autism, that is often one of the first things that I want to ask too. The second question is always the one that gets me: "Is he potty trained?" Huh? The only thing I can figure is that potty training is a fairly hot topic amongst parents of the toddler set and they obviously think I should be included in the toilet talk circle just as much as any other mom would be. Except potty training is different for my son, and for most other children with special needs. And I'm not really sure how long my exasperated smile and "We're working on it!" is going to hold up.
We ARE working on potty training, at least a little bit. Brody doesn't mind sitting on his potty seat for a short amount of time every day, at least long enough to unravel the entire roll of toilet paper. We just haven't made a whole lot of progress, and I know that Brody's sensory issues are probably our biggest roadblock at the moment.
Even when he was an infant, we were constantly having to do "smell checks" to see if Brody had a poopy diaper or if he was wet, and things are the same way even now at 3 and a half years old. The kid has never batted an eye at sitting in soaking wet or massively poopy pants, and I know those are his sensory issues at play. I genuinely believe that he doesn't feel the physical change or if he does, it is at a very decreased level compared to what a neurotypical child would feel. Multiple friends and relatives have commented on their surprise about Brody not being potty trained yet as he is very smart. What they don't seem to understand is that "smart" has nothing to do with it: how do you teach a child to use the potty when they aren't even able to recognize their body's urge to go to the bathroom?
That's pretty much where we're stuck. I purchased a book last month about potty training children with autism and obviously it hasn't been a whole lot of help. The approach advised by the book basically required more attention and detail than a 40 hour per week job (and even came out and said just that) and included keeping forms and logs that would probably land you in the doctor's office with carpal tunnel in about a week flat. It might very well work, but since I don't have the luxury of stopping every single thing in my life for upwards of three months to potty train my child, I guess I'll never know.
Well-meaning friends have suggested what they call the "Potty Party" approach, where apparently you and your child just move into the bathroom for the weekend and drink lots of fluids and sit on the toilet. That would land us in full blown meltdown mode in most likely less than half an hour. So I guess for now we'll just keep sitting on the potty for three-second intervals every day and hope that something clicks. In the meantime, I'd more than welcome any tips or tricks from you awesome moms on how to potty train a child with special needs!
Any magical tips or tricks to share on potty training a special needs child?