Fear is about the unknown.
Fear only becomes about the known if there is some scary experience that results from the unknown that confirms in our brain, that the previously unknown thing is in fact a danger.
So, you don’t want the toilet, or the little kids potty, or the diaper, or the process of going to the toilet to be in any way something unknown and scary.
This is easy to achieve.
You need to think about preparation and advance notice. In practical terms, what this means is, every time you change a diaper you want that process to be associated in the child’s mind with fun and a feeling of safety. So, if you verbally express a lot of frustration when you change diapers, what message do you think that gives the overactive amygdala? This includes you talking to other adults about how frustrating the whole thing is within earshot of the child.
Remember, that most kids on the autism spectrum have very good receptive language, even if their expressive language is still developing. So be careful to always take a light, easy tone when talking to others about this if your child is within earshot.
When you are changing a diaper, sing the child’s favorite song, tickle their tummy a bit, tell them how much you love them and so on. We know this can be difficult, when you are up to your elbows in poo, and it seems never ending, and you are exhausted, and others are shaming you for the fact that the toilet training is taking so long.
We never said autism parenting would be easy, but that’s the whole point of these modules.
We have many collective years of experience here and remember we are ourselves mentored by autists. So, we have found that following these protocols works.
Ok, so the diaper changing is not something the child has to fear. Now, buy a potty and just have it around. Have it there whatever you do. You can even take it with you on outings: it sits next to you, and then next to the kid in the car. It’s there next to you guys when you are relaxing, you can use as a play object – fill it with sand. Fill it with water and use it to water the plants.
Make it your friend!
Then, the child will make it their friend!
What this is all about, in neuro-science terms, is habituation. Habituation is about making sure that the cell danger response is not only not activated but the child feels a sense of security and safety around the potty.
You can model sitting on the potty. You can have his or her favorite stuffed animals have a mock fight over who gets to sit on the potty. All family members start asking if they can have a turn. You watch TV sitting on the potty (this is great when you have guests over). You make it a whole humorous thing.
When you have been doing this for a little while, you can encourage the child to sit on the potty for all of a second. Literally just one single second. This is a vital second. Push to 2 or 3 seconds and you may scupper the whole project.
Don’t graduate to 2 to 3 seconds until long after you feel you really want to.
Spend two weeks just doing one second on, then something else, then one second on, then something else.
This kind of methodical laying down of the foundation of acceptance, indeed embracing of the potty, with no pressure will pay you great dividends.
Once your child is fully familiar with the potty – let’s say this has taken you 8 weeks – you will find that sitting for up to 5 – 10 seconds becomes 30 seconds relatively quickly.
However, don’t be attached to any sort of quickness.
Almost rather, pull the child off the potty a little before they are ready, so that they kind of wish you’d given them a bit longer.
Also, make sure, that when they are sitting on the potty, they are doing something they want to do. Favorite cartoons are an obvious example, but equally it could be singing a certain song or playing with a certain toy that comes out when the potty comes out. If the child wants to get off the potty, NEVER MAKE THEM STAY ON IT!
Even if yesterday they sat on there for a little while and today they don’t want to sit on it at all or only for a tiny bit – no problem! If you begin to push at this stage you may have to start again from square one and it will take three times as long because you have now pressed the cell danger response and made the potty something to fear.
You really have to exercise a kind of patience that is above and beyond the norm. But it will get you there.
Some things to consider. Don’t take the kids pants down - this is scary.
To begin with they should sit on the potty either clothed or unclothed, just depending on where they happen to be. Don’t necessarily take the diaper off to sit on the potty. If they are wearing a diaper they can keep it on. And if they are not wearing a diaper, they sit on it like that.
Another thing; sitting over a hole is innately scary. No child in the villages of Africa, Asia, South America – which is where most kids on the planet actually live – learn to poo this way.
They simply squat down and let fly. There is no hole to fall into.
So, to begin with, you can open the lid of the potty but you can also fill it with sand, or a cushion or anything so that it doesn’t feel like a void.
You with your developed pre-frontal cortex know that the hole is nothing to fear. The kid does not know this.
Ok, so these are how you help the child lose the fear of first the potty and then by extension and by using the same strategies the toilet itself.
The toilet comes later and obviously you can’t move it around but you can do all sorts of fun things - climbing on to it, cuddling on it, reading books on it, sitting the child the wrong way around on it and letting him or her draw with dry eraser pens on the cistern or the lid of the toilet itself. Again, when it comes to the toilet, start with the one second rule, and build out gradually from there.
Did we mention gradually?
How about gradually.
All of this will create familiarity and comfort with the toilet and the potty. But you are not going to begin actual toilet training with either piece of equipment.
They will only come in later. The actual toilet training begins outside. If you live in an apartment, it begins in whichever room the kid is most comfortable with on pieces of newspaper or puppy training pads. These can be put down in all sorts of places and on furniture, so that when the child poos it's not an accident that you have to clean up, it's an event to be celebrated.
Some people fear that letting the child poo all over the place like this means they will never get to the toilet or potty. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Little by little the pooping outside the diaper (an achievement in itself) becomes pooping in certain spots with a potty near by. Then it becomes pooping in the potty.
We have seen this work time and time again. Some kids take weeks, some kids take up to three years. But we haven't seen a kid not get there this way.
Only when the child is comfortable pooping this way should you even think about graduating to the scary toilet with it’s strange void under the bottom and loud noises when the flush happens etc.
At the same time that the child is losing its fear of potties and toilets, you can begin to habituate them to pooping as outlined above.
Eventually the two things – pooping and potties/toilets will come together. But at first we do them in isolation from each other.