Down the Shitter

We’ve been planning for months now to do Jack’s potty training during Spring break. We even told his teacher at the beginning of the school year, in August. We knew we’d be traveling at Christmas, and the idea of an autistic four-year-old in an airplane bathroom seemed like one of the worst kinds of hell. So we planned on Spring break, which was this past week.

And for the first time maybe ever, Jack seemed ready, or as ready as he could be. He’s started taking off his diaper at night. He even threw poop onto his closet wall, which was especially fun. We’ve been doing a lot of mid-line exercises with him (trampoline, exercise ball, clapping, etc.), and he’s seemed increasingly aware of and interested in his own body. He wants to “lie on” everything, which means putting his belly on tables, dinner plates, and even (sometimes, interestingly) people. All of these are good signs. It seemed great.

And I had a plan. I follow a blog called Autism Daddy, and he has posted the routine that worked for his son, Kyle, who is severely autistic and epileptic, totally non-verbal. He said that their plan took four days. So that’s what I was banking on. Autism Daddy says four days. Autism Daddy says four days.

Luckily, the weather was beautiful last weekend, so on Sunday, I started our week with a naked day in the backyard. Jack ran around and played and peed on the bricks in the backyard. I praised him, because until then, honestly, I didn’t know if he would pee out of a diaper (pull-up). The next morning when I got him up, I found he had removed his diaper, peed on the floor of his room, and put the diaper back on. So the kid must be ready.

On Monday, I held off on the hard-core potty training plan from Autism Daddy one more day, because it was another gorgeous day, and so we had three hours in the backyard, pantsless and diaper-less. He peed again and then dropped his toy elephant in the pee puddle. When he reached to pick it up, we stopped him and rinsed off the elephant first. We told him not to touch the pee because it was dirty.

Tuesday was D-day. The weather turned cold and cloudy. No naked outside time. We started about an hour after he woke up, after breakfast. I took off his diaper and put him in “big boy” underpants: Hanes tighty-whiteys. Then every fifteen minutes, I took him to the bathroom, had him sit on the regular potty, and watch whatever video he requested, as long as it was at least five minutes long. Then I filled out the chart I had printed: time, pee, poop, duration, accidents. When he got up, I gave him two M&Ms and let him play for ten or so minutes until the next attempt.

On Wednesday, I added water to the routine, and a friend gave me the kiddie seat she used on top of the regular toilet seat because her son, like Jack, had been afraid to fall in. Those two additions seemed to help. And I have to hand it to my kiddo. He never once complained about getting onto the potty. He just seemed completely uninterested in actually peeing into it. But he got to watch videos every fifteen minutes and two M&Ms per sitting, so he wasn’t complaining.

Every day, so far, there were about two or three accidents a day, in between our timed potty seatings. The same was true on Thursday. And we were running out of underpants. I told him, after the second accident, that one more and we’d have to switch back to diapers. This news upset him. Because he liked the underpants, and because I think he understood me to be threatening him with diapers as a punishment. And so he didn’t pee at all the rest of the evening, even though I could see him squirm and act uncomfortable. I didn’t know how to explain it to him. And now he was scared to pee at all. Ever.

Jeez. Just mail the Mother of the Year award to my home address, please. I started to worry about him. Would he get a urinary tract infection from holding his pee? He was very anxious at bedtime, and cried a lot. I went in after we had tucked him in and he was crying again. I curled around him on his bed, and almost instantly, he started to nod off. I heard his breathing get deeper and more regular, and I slipped off the bed and headed to the door. “We’ll keep all the louds off,” he said quietly as I opened the door. “Yes,” I promised. “We’ll keep all the louds off.”

Brian went in an hour or so later, and Jack was awake again but quiet. His diaper was super-full of pee. And when I went in Friday morning, it was full again. So he had peed in his sleep. Thank goodness. But he was still pretty anxious about the potty. He wanted to cuddle a lot that morning, and I had spent some sleepless time the night before asking how I could help him. I had gotten the sense that I needed to smooth out my approach and even retreat a little. Give him space. Allow him to find his own way through.

So I did my best Friday morning. I held him. I kept him to the potty schedule, but I didn’t pressure him. Then on his second trip in there, Jack got very agitated and squirmy. I could tell that he needed to go but didn’t want to. Finally, I said, “Let’s give it a try,” and I helped him onto the potty. He was very anxious, but he couldn’t stop the trickle of pee. I held him as he cried, and when I heard the drops hit, I hugged him tighter and cheered him. “Jack, you did it! You went peepee in the potty! You did it! What a good job!” I praised him over and over. Brian heard and came upstairs and joined the praise chorus. Then the tears dried. Jack flushed the potty, and we fed him ice cream.

He went once more that morning, still very anxious, but no tears, this time. Then more ice cream, a special treat. I could tell he was still stopping the flow. Only a little bit trickled out each time. He asked to go outside without pants, and thankfully, the weather cooperated, so we went outside. Now, even the outside pee was causing him anxiety and not coming out freely. And later that morning, he had an accident on the couch, which I missed, being in the other room. He asked me to go to the potty — another first. So I took him in there and realized the underpants were wet. After he sat for ten minutes, with no pee in the potty, I let him get up, and he asked for ice cream. I agreed to the ice cream before I saw the pee on the couch.

That’s when I knew that it wasn’t over. Jack had peed on the fourth day of training, so I was ready to believe Autism Daddy on the four-day promise. But alas. I texted my friend of the kiddie potty seat, and she assured me that it was far from over, but that it would eventually end. She went on to tell me that her kids are still in the process of potty training, at various stages. She urged me to be patient with Jack and with myself, because it’s a hard enough process without freaking out about the timing.

There’s an old joke: If you want God to laugh, make plans. And I think I’ve given Him (or whoever) a few good chuckles this week. It’s not the potty training that went down the shitter. It’s just my idea that it would be quick and easy and over in four days. I don’t blame Autism Daddy. I’m sure it really worked for them. He doesn’t strike me as someone who would whitewash the details. And I’m also pretty sure they were more diligent about the short intervals between attempts, etc.

But that’s not us. It’s not Jack and it’s not me. So now I’m hanging in there for the longer haul. He’s gone twice now in the potty. He’ll do it again. He might be scared, but we’re not abandoning all hope here. We’re just abandoning unrealistic expectations. Funny, the OT we saw in February said he wasn’t anywhere close to being ready for potty training, and he’s closer than we thought. And tonight, he sang “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” to himself after bedtime. This afternoon, another lovely day, he played in the backyard with the hose. He peed on the grass and asked Brian to hold him afterward.

The tunnel will end. And meanwhile, we’ll do our best to relax and enjoy the ride.

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