Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Eating Candy on the Toilet: The Obligatory Potty-Training Post

Some people are awesome at potty training.  My friend had her daughter out of diapers at two.  Two?!  Can they even understand what's going on at that age?  I'm not a potty training guru.  When my older son was ready to be trained, I made a little chart with star stickers, and there were prizes involved.  He was good, but not terribly consistent at 3 1/2, so I resorted to threats.  We were planning a Disney trip, and I told him that they didn't allow boys in diapers to meet Mickey Mouse.  That did the trick because kids are dumb.
Hey, he tried, right?

But how could I possibly train my spectrumy son?  He didn't care about stickers or understand delayed rewards, so what could I do?

I read a lot of books, but two in particular helped me a great deal:  Ready, Set, Potty! and Toilet Training for Individuals with Autism and Other Developmental Issues.  These authors seem to really understand what we're dealing with and offer success stories that gave me hope.

I learned that it's best to toilet train in cold weather, because it's harder to monitor fluid intake in the heat, and we sweat a lot of it out, anyway.  So if you're trying (and failing) to potty train your kid this summer, take heart.  You're not doing anything wrong.  It's just not the best time.  The books recommend a long weekend, like Thanksgiving.  (We did President's Day weekend, and it worked just fine.)

Sometimes kids don't want to even go in the bathroom.  Perhaps they were traumatized by earlier attempts at training and avoid that room altogether.  Brenda Batts, author of Ready, Set, Potty!,  recommends decorating the bathroom in a theme the child likes.  She tells the story of one boy who was afraid of the bathroom until his parents decorated it with a Christmas theme.  They even put a little tree in there, and the kid was allowed to put an ornament on the tree as a reward for using the toilet.  (Great idea, but can you imagine?  And years later, do you think they kept the "toilet ornaments" separate from the rest?  But, hey.  Whatever works.  Good on ya, folks.)

The big issue I faced was with motivation.  The boy didn't care that he was getting too heavy to pick up and put on changing tables.  He didn't recognize that his peers were already using the toilet.  He was not interested.  We were reading Once Upon a Potty, and watching the DVD, which is cute, but has a really irritating song at the end.  (It also features babies way too young to be potty training, which made me feel worse, but the boy didn't care.)  He liked the book and video, but not enough to want to emulate Joshua.  I needed to motivate him with something he really liked...

Candy!  Yes, I did it.  Food is generally not recommended, but I did it and it worked for us.  I bribed my son with M&Ms.  At first, I gave him an M&M for just sitting there for a little bit.  Then he got one when he peed.  He eventually worked his way to two M&Ms for #2, and oh, what a happy day that was!  I think I called everyone I knew.

So he would go when I asked him, but he didn't voluntarily use the bathroom, and he was very inconsistent.  I was afraid to get rid of the diapers, but I knew it was the next step.

Ready, Set, Potty! suggests making the switch to underpants a special event.  The boy had just discovered the joy of birthday parties, so we decorated the bathroom door and the bathroom like a party.  I mean it--streamers, signs, balloon cut-outs, the works.  We also put some Phineas and Ferb decals on the walls.  The bathroom became his favorite place.  (Note:  We had to be careful to place the decals only where they could be seen from the toilet, or else he wouldn't stay put.)

Now, the choice of underwear was an issue.  Lots of helpful family members bought him cartoon underwear as motivation.  For kids on the spectrum, however, this can be confusing.  If I tell him, "Don't pee on Perry the Platypus" and there's a Perry the Platypus on the front and back of the underwear, he can pee himself in good conscience because the Perry on the back is still dry.  So I made my own special underwear for him.  I bought pack of plain white briefs, and using fabric markers, I put balloon and candle designs on the front.  (See?  A theme!)

This represents the sum total of my artistic ability.

And then we had a Potty Party.  I shit you not.  (Pun intended.)  I baked a cake and wrapped the underwear in festive packaging.  Then I made my parents and in-laws come over and sing, "Happy Potty Day to You."  We made a big effin' deal about this.  No more diapers.

So what happened next?  Lots of clocks and charts and reminders.  I took pictures of every step and made a social story book.  We worked with his teacher and had toileting strategy sessions that rivaled those of Roosevelt and Churchill planning D-Day, but in our case it was P-Day.  (Ha!  See what I did there?)  We switched to mini M&Ms and eventually faded that altogether.  He slept in a pull-up at night for a long time.  But he got it.

I still need to supervise him, because he skips the steps.  He doesn't wash his hands unless I stand over him, and he still can't effectively wipe his own butt.  But he hardly ever has accidents because he always tells us when he needs to go.  (He has no qualms about dropping trou and peeing outside just about anywhere.)  I still decorate his underwear, although the cartoon one became easier for him with

Fun with Stampers:  The Underpants of Fear
The photocard I used to make his potty book is now in one of those digital frames in our dining room.  I never erased the pictures.  If you come over for dinner, you just might be treated to an action shot of the naked boy taking a whiz.

We are very proud.


  1. Ooh! Forgot to mention that I bought a TON of sweatpants. Made it easier to get quick access.

  2. I threw a party when my daughter FINALLY got it at 4 1/2! Night pants were still in use until 7 but that day it was a huge event.... she graduated to big girl bed linen! No more dora...lets be honest never liked her anyway so I didn't care if she got peed on so much...but the week she was dry every night!!! Barbie made her ever loving fairyfloss pink appearance in my home! Thankfully she has now moved on to preteen skulls and crossbones in a flowery motif. .. NT PARENTS just really dont get it! She's 10 1/2 still not one for toilet paper or hand washing. ... but were upto 6 out of 10 times she will now attempt it. So to all parents and all kiddoa going through this... take heart. ..they get it eventually!

  3. I know I need to make a behavior strip for the bathroom, but it's just not the thing I want to be laminating at work. ;)

    Yay, Rosemary! Thanks for the encouragement!