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Oh, the joys of potty training!

This is one of my very first stories written in the winter of 2010.

Oh, the joys of potty training . . .

I didn’t think we would ever get out of the diaper stage. How do you potty train an autistic child? First, they have to learn control and second, they have to learn to clean themselves. It’s nasty business for adults, think of how nasty it must be for someone with an acute sense of smell and touch. Matt was in diapers for years. We tried everything to get him to control his bladder. Nothing seemed to work. He was 5 years old and diapers didn’t fit well anymore. Training pants were always wet. Even the pre-school was tired of changing him. Our nerves were shot. We just didn’t know how to proceed.

One summer afternoon I was out on the deck watching Matt in the kiddy pool. He even had to wear protection in the pool because of lack of control. His disposable training pants were saturated from pool water and it was time for him to get out. It practically fell off as he stood up. I grabbed the dissolving clump before it could hit the deck. Nude and loving it, Matt ran around the deck in the hot sun. Tom had just come out the door and we were laughing at Matt’s obvious joy of being naked. Christopher came out to see what all the laughter was about.

I’m not sure who had the idea first - was it Christopher or Tom? Anyway, the next thing I know both were standing off the edge of the deck and peeing into the yard. Matt was fascinated. Remember that love of lines and arcs made by water? Well, he was hooked almost immediately. He ran to the edge and stuck his belly out as far as it could go, pushing his back with his hands, and began to pee. Here I was, in awe of their glee and a bit taken back. I would have been mad if it weren’t for the fact that it worked – and they seemed to be having so much fun!

Everyday after, Matt would stop what he was doing and run outside to pee. Clothes were easy to remove, and the training pants were finally becoming useful. Matt loved the pool and spent most days naked as J-bird, splashing around and jumping out to pee off the deck. We lived in the country, no one around to see, and I couldn’t see any harm in it. When we had Jacob and Sarah for the weekends, Jacob would join in and Sarah and I would retreat to the house. Sarah was very jealous, and to tell the truth, so was I.

It was this particular summer that our cat had kittens. They had a nice little shed just off the deck where they stayed with the momma cat. At 6-weeks of age we put an ad in the paper and started receiving inquiries. A woman and her two children came to see the kittens. They were petting each one, trying to decide which kitten to take, when out came Matt - stark naked - and jumped in the pool. I called for Tom and before he could get out the door, Matt had decided he needed to pee. He slipped past Tom, ran to the edge and let it fly. The woman mumbled something like, “We need to think about it” as she quickly hustled her children toward the driveway to escape. I found this to be extremely funny and started laughing. Tom laughed and Matt, hearing the joyous sound laughed too. His behavior had just been reinforced. He was controlling his bladder in the privacy of our yard. What harm could it do?

Then some time in the middle of summer we decided to go to the local flea market. We gathered up the kids and Matt’s changing bag and headed out. Each child was looking at items on nearby tables, staying close enough so we could keep track. Matt stayed right with us. Tom and I were discussing an item we had found when I heard the sound. Matt had dropped his pants and was peeing right there, in the middle of a crowd! What could we do? He was in full stream. We looked at each other for only a moment. I moved to block the view, standing on one side, and Tom calmly moved to stand on the opposite side. Christopher and Jacob walked over and began to giggle, but taking a cue from us, moved to block the view. Sarah wandered over and seeing what was happening, just smiled and joined the ring. We managed to block any and all view of Matt or the stream. The entire crew worked like a well-oiled machine, and without words, came together to protect Matt. No one in the crowd seemed to notice. We decided to leave before anyone could say anything to counteract that assessment.

It took all summer to get Matt to pee in the toilet. It took all summer to make him stop peeing off the deck (and he never again let loose in public). But we did it, and Matt was on his way to self control.

Bowel movements were something quite different. First, Matt couldn’t figure out why a part of his body kept coming out. What was that nasty stuff? Sitting him on the toilet and waiting and waiting and then taking him off the toilet and cleaning him up seemed to take an hour each time. Matt would watch the water swirl with each flush. Where did that nasty stuff go?

He evidently needed to explore this phenomenon. One day I found him in the bathroom, stuffing plastic links into the toilet. Plastic links are those brightly colored blocks of various shapes that link together to form long lines. Matt was trying to find out just how deep the hole in the toilet bowl went. He would shove the entire linked chain as hard as he could, then add a new link. We tried to remove them, but each pull resulted in a simple disconnect of a link. The blocks that were in the hole were wedged in tight. Tom finally had to take a blow torch to the toilet to melt them free.

Of course, this was followed by clogging the toilet with toilet paper – an entire roll. Matt was learning to clean himself, but instead of using just enough, he became fascinated with the dissolving properties of the paper and just couldn’t stop. Another plumbing nightmare (and more would come). We became experts at plunging.

Ah yes, potty training. We were both experienced parents when it came to potty training a child. But we were amateurs when it came to potty training an autistic child. We needed creativity, a great deal more patience and a sense of humor to pull through. The best part -if there can be such a thing?

It’s finally over!


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