Thursday, October 6, 2011

Potty Training With Edgar Allen Poe
I always hate myself when I write blogs in other software then post them and try to adjust all the formatting problems that crop up as a result. So. . . I just won't fix any of them.
I have recently read several potty training blogs.  The following account represents my experience with our first attempt at potty training Lily.  Possibly it is dramatized, but I hold that it is mostly factual and can be instructive to the extent that you may want to NOT do it this way having read the account.  I may revisit the process since it seems like such a sticky one for parents of autistic children, and this was only the first concerted effort that didn’t consist of the. . . “she’ll go when she’s ready” formula that our pediatrician at the time “prescribed”.  We have since tried others. . . 
It was a "vacation" week for me. The nuns that ran Lily’s daycare apparently needed a week of rest from the supervision of our angels every year around that time, and my wife was out of vacation time. Actually the staff had already gotten their vacation, but they also scheduled the facility to be painted and remodeled, fixed and refinished that week every year so that the daycare sparkled and Jesus smiled upon it.
A week off with the kids actually could be considered enjoyable, so we attempted to do what we could in order to make certain that it was not. Because you cannot be a martyr without having suffered.  And we loooooove to play martyr.  We decided to attempt to hardcore potty train little Lily while I was off with the kids.
There are many ways to potty train kids. . . my preferred method would be "wait until they just sorta pick it up" because it requires no effort.  This method almost never fails, but takes a lot longer.  But Lily is not a no-effort child, and her a lot longer is longer than a lot of other lot longers. With other learning priorities to deal with, potty training was on the low end of her therapeutic services, so it seemed likely to go unaddressed unless we prioritized it.
The method we ended up going with was this: underpants underneath her pull-ups, with an egg timer to get her on the potty frequently and regularly. Ding! Time to potty. Ding! Time to potty.  Simple.
The plan’s details were worked up by Lily’s BSC and went something like this. . .  At 30 minute intervals, you take your child to the potty. If she's dry and she goes to the bathroom. . . you bump the interval to 45 minutes. If she's not, you change her and continue as before. You're "done" when she's dry at 2 hour intervals, essentially, though there's more to it than that, since you really need them to realize for themselves that they need to go and to prompt you to put them on the potty, or better still, they visit the potty by themselves and leave you to your "Stories".
Armed with my strawberry-shaped egg timer, I set the 30 minute interval and waited. Ding! Time to potty. She sat but wasn't happy about it. Was she dry, was she wet? I don't remember. . . that was sooooo long ago. I got her off the potty and went back to my day, making breakfasts and/or cleaning dishes. Retrieving stuffed animals or fixing the internet for my older daughter, Emma. Ding! Time to potty. Dry/wet. . . again. . . so long ago, but I think we were 0 for 2. . . two potty attempts, two pairs of underpants. . . we bought seven, all of which were slightly too big because it was sort of last minute, and the smallest we could find were "4" and she needed "3". We had a helper (TSS) for the morning, someone to assist with her day-to-day activities in an effort to get her back on track. This proved to be uncomfortable for most of the day, as I essentially still did all the same shit I usually do with the kids, but had someone there to "help" who felt equally uncomfortable being there, because he didn't really know me, but had to be there all morning essentially doing nothing but watching me.
Ding! Time to potty. Day 1 met with mixed success. Sometimes dry, sometimes, wet. We passed the day to the rhythm of the dinging strawberry. The dings seemed to come more and more quickly the longer the day dragged on. Her helper left around noon, and I fed her and put her to bed in a pull-up (not underpants) for her afternoon nap (cause I'm not a fucking (excuse my French) moron) and spent a little quality time with the older child.
Lily didn't sleep though. . . so an hour later I retrieved her from "quiet time" and marked time thereafter:
"To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells -
From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells."
And so on. The day rolled on, eventually rolling over me, but it was done. My wife returned to relieve me. The process itself was predicted to provide results in one to two weeks, but the daycare would never be able to handle the every 30 minute requirement. . . so we prayed that it would "take" in one week. Since that's all we had.
The following day I returned to work. My wife had just the one day left to take off and it was Tuesday. She resumed the 30 minute ritual with mixed success. Dry underwear in the morning, wet and dry in the afternoon, with mixed results on the potty. It was a weather forecast, and just as accurate. Mixed showers in the morning with areas of wetness in the afternoon, clearing by bedtime. But still we soldiered on.
I returned for duty. Heh. I said duty. I returned for duty on Wednesday. Up and on the potty. . . dry all morning. ALL morning. . . but she also didn't go on the potty. . . so DING! Time to potty, every thirty minutes, with no relief until nap-time, when her helper left and I put her down for her nap.  It's amazing how frequently thirty minutes arrives when you have to fight your daughter to stay on a toilet seat and "try to go potty". Ahh the amusement you'd have shared at my expense as I dramatized "going poopy" or "give it a push, Lily", complete with grunting sounds, pleading for success. Mind you this is only day three of the one to two week program.
She stayed dry all morning, was slightly wet after nap, but "Huzzah!" went poopy and pee in the afternoon following her nap. You GO girl. At this point my shoulders were hunched. I was scuffing across the floor, attempting to clean, and split 'fun time' with the girls, while maintaining the routine.  Yet still I bravely marched on, the footsteps of my (and her) progress measured by the banshee's wail of the revolving strawberry,
"By the sinking or the swelling in the anger of the bells -
Of the bells -
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells -
In the clamor and the clanging of the bells! "
Oh how its alarm jangled my nerves and brain by 5 o'clock when relief arrived. . . though not relief in the form of the potty.
The day my brain broke was Thursday. Up a little late by her standards her pull-up was damp, and she didn't have to go to the bathroom when I propped her up on the potty seat, coaxing her and cajoling her to keep her still and balanced on it. As the days went by each event got longer, an attempt to get her to use the potty, not just sit on it. Rewards were offered for success; treats,  and praise were lavished. The process would sometimes take 10 to 15 minutes. . . every thirty minutes.
"To the sobbing of the bells: -
Keeping time, time, time,
As he knells, knells, knells, ..."
I wanted to throw that fucking (yeah, that’s right, I’m not striking out the eff word THIS time) egg timer through the window. I hated it so much. But I was strong. . . a grownup for godsake. Ding! Time to potty! Thirty minutes later she was wet again but didn't go on the potty. Ding! Time to potty! Thirty minutes later wet yet again and still didn't go on the potty.
"To the tolling of the bells -
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells, -
To the moaning and the groaning of the bells. "
At 10:30 that morning I had just finished a 15 minute attempt. She stayed there, not completely unhappily, as I coaxed her and praised her and offered stuffed animals and books. She'd not pooped all morning, and that was somewhat out of the ordinary. So she stayed a little longer, but did not go. I cleaned her off and helped her wash her hands, changing her underpants for the fourth or fifth time (periodic batch laundry runs are required when you only have seven pairs of underpants with which to work. . . and we were down to six, since on Day 2 there'd been an incident; an incident in which my wife completely lost her temper and I had to counsel her to "pull yourself together" which is almost always the wrong thing to say to someone who has lost his/her temper and definitely was in this particular instance. . . it was sort of ironic in hindsight). Within a few minutes of my having reset the Demon Egg Timer of Fleet Street she had pooped in her pants.
The success of this method pins its hopes on the tolerance of the parents in question for mess. . . and while my tolerance had increased over the last seven years (at that time) of parenting. . . it is not limitless. The method itself almost guarantees that at some point the child in question will poop in his/her britches and require some pretty significant cleanup. Lily, however, as part of her unique condition, does not sit still. Her muscles are always firing. . . changing her is a chore, her little feet constantly kicking you in the stomach (or worse), flailing about. . . or bouncing off the floor. Her hands immediately exploring any newly exposed territory, her body twisting to find a direction of escape. . .
I spent a solid five minutes just trying to think about how to change her. What made it worse was that her "helper" was there watching. She couldn't really HELP me because, short of pinning her arms to the floor, there was nothing I could have her do for me. The best way to do it, I decided, was to DO it! So I did it. And much squirming and fighting ensued.
There is no 'tidy' way to change poopy underpants short of cutting them off like a trauma nurse in a particularly messy E.R. situation. I considered this but discarded it. I "got down to it". Hands immediately began exploring but were blocked by my diaper changing kung fu. Legs countered with a kick to my chest. My hand grabbed the leg, but released it to block the questing hands again. The trunk twisted, escape was inevitable, but again, her Kung Fu was no match for my own. The other foot kicked free and the mess began. "Shit!" I said, probably not as quietly as I should have. Shit, indeed. On the carpet, on my hands, on her hands, on her legs. . . everywhere. I sent the "helper" to get wet paper towel as extricated the underpants from my daughters anatomy, tucking them inside the pull-up. . . cleaning shit speckled carpet with wet wipes. . . cleaning legs with one wipe as questing hands resoiled themselves to the cheerful giggling of my daughter. Wipe followed wipe, each newly cleaned body part soiling a new wipe that added to the stack of wadded up wipes in the pull-up. Still she kicked and twisted. Eventually she was clean. . . in a pull-up. . . as I tackled the carpet. . . then myself. Shorts. . . hands. . . The wipes stacked higher and higher until at last it was over. But my brain was broken.
Fuck you, egg timer. Fuck you, 30 minute changing schedule.
"I think we're pretty much done with the timer for a while," I told her helper calmly (think in terms of Hannibal Lector calm. . . the sort of calm that hides psychotic impulses beneath a cultured and charming patina). "My brain is broken right now and I'm going to need a little down time to fix it." Indeed immediately following this edict the stress began fading slowly away, sloughing off my psyche like a shed skin from a serpent. The helper left, and I fed my daughter an hour or so later, putting her on the potty when I damn well felt like it, just prior to her nap. No more underpants. No more ringing menace. Just, get her on the potty.
We scrapped the intensive potty training that night over a discussion with beer. Too much, too soon (potty training, not beer), expectations too high. . . plus I had the broken brain thingy to deal with. Friday was a much better day with my girls. I got to enjoy them. And yeah, I got her on the potty, but not to the alarm bell, just 'as needed'.
I know this. . . if my wife had told me to "get a hold of yourself" during the brain breaking. . . it's possible I'd have left her that instant. Packed my bags and left the house. I'd have been back, but only after a many, many gallons of alcohol.
The egg timer was still on my kitchen counter, but it sat at zero. No longer ticking like a shit-filled time bomb.  I put it in one of the cabinets a day or two later, and it will collect dust there until someone else moves it. . . I don't trust myself not to throw it through the window anymore.
That was two years ago.  A moderately more successful potty training effort occurred a year later that was championed by my wife.  Although it got us nearly 95% of the way there at the time, medication almost entirely eradicated it a month or so later, though why this was so, we aren’t certain.
Currently Lily is at about 90%.  We try to get her on the potty once every hour and a half or so, and through four weeks of school she’s had only two accidents (there have been more accidents, but our biggest worry has always been those that occurred at school).  We may tackle the issue again at some point in the future. . . but not with an egg timer.

Many thanks to Edgar Allen Poe for writing a fantastic poem about intensive potty training methods utilizing egg timers.


  1. Wow. That, my friend, sounds like some heavy and awful torture. I must say that's a bit of a different method than we employed. Our ABA did ours and it involved a 9-5 job with tutors all day long. They started by blocking my son in the restroom naked from the waist down and gave him heavy liquids and salty snacks and food to make him thirsty all day long. He was social storied and told to pee on the toilet when needed. He was given a couple of boring toys to hang with between pees but not allowed to sit down. He peed himself 2x and then figured it out. Each time he went on the toilet, there was a huge party. He was allowed to go to another room that was set up like a party toy room and play with heavily desired toys for 5 minutes. Then put back into the bathroom with liquids and snacks. The area he was allowed to walk around in got larger each time he made it to the party room and undies went on when he made it through the 1st half of the first day. By the end of the second day of this intensive potty training he was peeing in the toilet regularly on his own schedule. He kept pooping his pants (and that was ugly) until his 5th birthday. I kept telling him that big boys poop on the potty and he would get great presents if he could finally be a big boy and poop on the toilet. He decided on his own (this was 6 months after the "intensive potty training") to poop on the toilet and we've only had a couple accidents since then. I was lucky that he was able to understand the urge and control it. We still have accidents occasionally but overall it sounds like a lot less intense than your Edgar Allen Poe method... my condolences! I know that it seemed like it took forever to get thru that! Sounds like Lily has made it!! :)

    Glad you and the wife made it!

  2. We haven't made it yet, Karen. . . She's ALMOST there. . .

    We thought we had it licked about a year ago, and then tried meds to see if they would help her with some of her behaviors/learning. . . it was a disaster. . .completely changed who she was and took potty training away in the process. She's almost back now to where she was then, but it's been slow.

  3. Wow, that sounds like a real brain-breaker, alright. Liked how you used the Poe metaphor. It's hard to make potty training interesting, but you turned it into a horror story! :-)

  4. It WAS a horror story!!!!

    Thank you for the comment, Tabatha!

  5. I thank my lucky stars Alex had sensory issues and went ape every time a poo hit his rear end. My first daughter was a real pain to potty train and I swear the youngest is holding on strictly to spite me. Weird how the easiest one has Autism. Silver lining...

    1. Lily's HYPO sensitive. She doesn't care. At. All.

  6. Oh, potty training. We have stories. The short version is I've given up for now. Moe is basically an indiscriminate peer. He seems close to ready, since he'll often take off a wet or dirty diaper, and sometimes I'll find his diaper drawer open after that. But he can't yet communicate that he has to go (or even tell me that he's gone).

    We also did the timer thing. He loved wearing regular underwear, and he would go on the toilet if I put him there. But he was just as happy going on the floor, in the underwear, on the wall, etc. And I swear this kid has the ability to pee every five minutes if he wants to. Ugh.

    1. yep. . . that's where Lily is currently.

  7. Wow. I used to work in a facility similar to Lilly's daycare. Potty training sucks fo sho. I raise my glass to your valiant effort.

    She'll get there.

    I'd share to FB, but I just have friend-ed too many kids, and I can't filter them all. I'll no doubt forget some.