The Denver Autism Wheel

Posts Tagged ‘progress

ImageBy way of explanation, this is not a current situation in the AutieMom Kate family. But I’ve answered some questions lately about how to get an AutieKid good with the potty, so I thought I’d revisit some of those memories and share how we got here from there.

The typical age when kids train is 2ish. There is a LOT of wiggle room in that. Typi-kid Luke trained himself in one week, just before he turned 2. He and I had a deal: he could wear his Superman costume all day once he wasn’t in diapers (Superman doesn’t wear diapers, you see). That was all he needed: the right motivation. He was so excited about going to the grocery store or the library in his super suit, he was willing to learn to use the toilet.

AutieBoy Chris, on the other hand, didn’t learn until he was 4. Why? Didn’t have the motivation until then. I’m pretty sure he thought the rest of us were chumps, stopping our activity to go into a small room for a couple of minutes and then having to pick up where we left off.

So how did he get the motivation? The same way he learned to walk. We made him 🙂

There are 3 important facts to keep in mind when approaching toilet training:

  1. Kids get to it when they get to it, regardless of adult schedules or expectations.
  2. Once they get it, they get it. It seems like a big mountain, but you only have to climb it once for each kid.
  3. Unless there’s a significant medical reason for it, no kid wears a diaper to prom or high school graduation.

A couple of books were pretty helpful: topics like “potty training in a week.” The key there is the same as it is for a lot of milestones. Consistent expectations and taking the time to make a new activity a habit. A bit of a caveat: I was working from home at that time, so I was able to dedicate the time to this project. This method would be very difficult to complete successfully in a daycare setting without a dedicated adult, so keep in mind that it requires face time for several days (yes, days) to get this done. But again, once it’s done, it’s done forever.

One other qualifier in this explanation: Chris had very few sensory sensitivities or ritual behaviors. While it took him longer than Luke to get used to the new policy about the toilet, we didn’t have to contend with a rigid adherence to his established expectations, and he wasn’t skittish about the sounds or feelings associated with the process. We did have a calm and positive environment for toileting and took our time getting there, and I think that helped. There were no negative consequences for accidents; we just started the timer again and put the wet underpants in the wash.

The books advised putting the potty in a common area (I chose the kitchen: tile floors for easy cleanup if necessary) and spending most of the day around toileting activities. I got a stopwatch and some “big boy” underpants for Chris. I also got him a good supply of apple juice and water, and finger food snacks. 20 minutes off, 5 minutes on. That went on most of the day. Yes, it was boring, but it was necessary. Yes, we had some accidents. When that happened, we started over. It took until the afternoon to hear the little sound in the potty. We celebrated and started the timer again.

Part of the process is associating fresh air on the body parts with relieving oneself. Chris was used to going while the diaper was in contact with his skin. It was a new concept for him, and it took some time to realize that it was OK.

By Day 2, we were up to 35 minutes off, 5 minutes on. He got better at it, and I’d lengthen the time by 5-minute increments. This process went on for about 3 days.

Once he got used to the idea, he was OK with it, and it became a routine. By about Week 2, we’d taken the potty top and put it on the big toilet with a step stool, so he could climb up. From then on, he was golden. He didn’t have accidents, he didn’t look back, and in retrospect, it seemed like a much bigger deal than it actually turned out to be.

You might know (well, you might not, but I do, so I’ll tell you) that the age difference between the boys is a little over 2 years. Luke hit toilet training at almost 2. Chris at 4. Coincidence? Doubt it. There’s nothing like a little sibling rivalry to git ‘er done sometimes, and this AutieMom isn’t averse to using whatever tools are available. Yes, it’s likely that part of Luke’s motivation was to train himself at the same time as his brother. And yes, it’s also likely that Luke’s success niggled Chris enough to get his rear in gear, so to speak.


I saw the movie Hans Christian Andersen when I was a kid. “Inchworm” was one of my favorite songs from the film: the rhythm, the repetition and the haunting melody that resolves to the happy end phrase. For reference, here’s the clip on You Tube.

In addition to spawning a fascination for Denmark (more on that in a later post) and a fondness for Danny Kaye, the film and that song have added significance to me now because they helped Chris realize something important about himself: he’s a much better auditory learner than a verbal learner.

“Two and two are four, four and four are eight…” Chris can pop into that song anywhere in the melody (with that uncanny perfect pitch of his—no, I’m not at all jealous 😉 ) and use the lyrics to complete the appropriate addition homework.

His school uses the Everyday Math curriculum which has caused him no end of distress because it places the burden of alternate learning styles on the elementary student. He was in the throes of another tear-filled episode of slogging through alternate methods of dividing numbers (none of which was long division, BTW) when I pulled the plug and told his teacher to pick the one he was best at and let him solve the stupid problems.

The trouble is that Chris, like so many of his autistic peers, has trouble generalizing concepts, so each instance of dividing using the lattice method and dividing using some other method, was a unique, specific instance of unrelated activities—not a unifying process of coming to understand the “concept of division” through various means. Chris’ typical brother Luke, on the other hand, views his Everyday Math curriculum as a puzzle to be solved and really likes it. To each his own; gimme long division any day of the week.

When I was in college, I took a class in education psychology which told me I was a verbal-tactile learner. My best method for understanding something new in technology is to go through a hands-on tutorial with some kind of expected output at the end (a demo that results in a test web page, for ex). When it comes to most other topics, I’m an avid reader and have very good comprehension and the ability to share and extrapolate from what I’ve read to form general concepts. Hah! Autiemomkate: Bug in a Box.

Chris has realized that he is not a verbal learner. He told me as much, and his teacher and para-pro agree and have modified his curriculum to help. To me, though, the fact that his school is helping comes second to his realizing that’s what they’re doing. He knows he’s much better at hearing information and demonstrating his understanding, and (sharing the trait with his mom) doing the hands-on demos in science and computer lab. Chris has realized that he’s an aural-tactile learner.

The pieces start to fit together. When I was a kid, I got one of those times tables charts in my math book and used it as a cheat sheet while memorizing the times tables. It worked for me. But I’m a verbal learner. Chris has that same chart in his math book, but each time he refers to it, he uses a finger to trace between the numbers along the top and side down to the answer. It doesn’t stick. He can’t remember them that way. But he remembers the “Inchworm” song…we’re currently working on getting a set of songs about the times tables. Don’t care if they’re cheesy, want to see if they work…will keep you posted.

The fact that Chris knows this about himself and can articulate it to me is huge. It means he can provide insight to other people (theory-of-mind folks, take note) and take the first steps in learning to advocate for himself and find teaching methods that work to help him become a successful learner. Even if it’s just a small step towards those goals, it’s still a step. “You and your arithmetic: you’ll probably go far.”

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