Day 27: Diapers and Duct Tape: Potty Training a SPD Kid

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This is Day 27 in the series: 31 days on Living with ADHD, Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder: What We Have Tried, What Has Worked, What Hasn’t Worked, and Never Giving Up.  Click here to see all the posts in this series.

One of the early signs Mr Rockstar had sensory processing disorder was when we started potty training him at age 2.  Of course we made the classic mistake of starting to potty train too early right before Mr Rockstar’s second birthday. This was also when he started speech therapy.

I personally am completely skeptical of anyone who says they potty trained their kid before age 2 or they were able to potty train any age child in a day.  In my circle of mommy friends a few have had some success at getting their child mostly potty trained before age 2 (with HOURS and HOURS of work) only to have them relapse for a period of time and have to be re-potty trained at 2.5 or older.  I also have had a few friends with moderate success using the “potty train your child in a day” method for an older toddler.  This would get the child mostly potty trained but they usually still would struggle off and on with issues for months afterwards.

Mr Rockstar HATED HATED HATED the feeling of wet underwear.  As long as we had him in underwear he would never go.  Seriously!?! at age 2 we would put him in underwear in the morning and he wouldn’t go until his afternoon nap.  The only time he was awake and might wet his underwear was in the early evening.  It was our one chance to try and get him to go on the potty.  On the one hand it was awesome he could hold it so long but on the other hand it made finishing potty training really hard.  The speech therapist said he was basically potty trained….I just needed to give him enough incentive to go on the potty instead of in his underwear.  After trying a couple things I finally figured out withholding Thomas the Train videos was a powerful incentive.  I put them all in the bathroom.  While he was sitting on the potty I would entice him with Thomas the Train.  If he ever asked to watch Thomas the Train I just would say he could watch it as soon as he went in the potty.  Pretty quickly he conquered his fear of the potty at least for #1.

Poop was another story.  I am pretty sure every parent of an SPD kid has poop horror stories.  Once we started potty training Mr Rockstar became completely unwilling to poop in his diaper, potty, or underwear.  He would sneak off, take off all his clothes, and do his business in the corner.  At the same time we were struggling with potty training Mr Rockstar I was pregnant with the twins and sooooooo sick.  Every afternoon Mr Rockstar would wait until his nap, strip off his diaper, and go in the floor.  Finally I resorted to duct taping his diaper on every afternoon.  Sounds cruel (Don’t worry!  No duck tape was touching skin.  I just used it to reinforce the tabs and make the waist less elastic so he couldn’t pull it off easily.) but it worked and saved my sanity.  Unfortunately this just delayed the pooping until dinner time.  Inevitably Hubby and I would get distracted cooking and talking and realize Mr Rockstar had disappeared and the house was eerily quiet.  We would rush around frantically trying to find him.  We were always too late.

Two things seemed to help Mr Rockstar finally finish potty training.  One was his sisters being born and us moving 6 weeks later to a new job in a new state.  This change seemed to shock him enough that it was easier to break his old habit.  The other thing that helped was we became hyper aware of what he was doing at certain times of day so we could calmly redirect him to the potty.

Compared to many autistic or sensory processing disorder (SPD) kids I think we had it easy with potty training.  Here is what I have learned from potty training Mr Rockstar and the twins:

1) Make Sure Your Child is Ready

We started potty training Mr Rockstar WAY too early.  But it seemed silly to stop once we started.  This was a bad idea.  If you aren’t sure and you try potty training but have almost no progress for a couple weeks just stop and try again in 3-6 months.  Mr Rockstar would go on the potty a couple times a week but he had way more accidents than successes until he was 2.5.  It would have been easier for us and him if we had just stopped, returned to diapers, and tried again 6 months later.

Miss Tomboy expressed interest around age 2 so we tried potty training the twins right after they turned 2.  Miss Tomboy made decent progress but Miss Princess was completely uninterested.  I decided it was easier to just wait 6 more months for both of them than to keep potty training Miss Princess.

I am really bad at knowing when my kids are ready so I don’t think I am qualified to tell you when your kid might be!  Just know it is harder sometimes to tell than the online lists of “Is Your Child Ready to Potty Train?” make it seem.

2) Get the Right Potty for Your Child

Mr Rockstar was so hard to potty train (plus we forgot a potty or two while traveling lol) that I feel like we tried every type of potty.

The small potty at IKEA was great for Miss Princess because she is so petite.  It was too small for Mr Rockstar and Miss Tomboy because they are so tall for their age.  Their knees were up by their ears sitting on it.  However, it was great for Mr Rockstar learning to poop in the potty probably for that reason.

The potty that sings songs and plays music when the child goes….is nice when it works.  Mr Rockstar actually liked it but half the time the music didn’t go off and he was just confused.

The foam potty inserts that go in adult size potties are nice.  The kids don’t feel like they are going to fall in and there is less mess to clean up.  Mommy’s Helper Cushie Traveler is a foldable cushy potty seat I was able to find to keep in my diaper bag.  It made taking the twins to the potty while we were away from the house easier.

I was surprised how much the potty seemed to affect each child’s comfort with learning to potty train so take the time to find the right one for your child!

FYI I searched for this answer when Mr Rockstar was little so I will include this bit for any other curious souls.  We never taught Mr Rockstar to pee standing up.  It seemed like it was going to be a huge mess plus it was less confusing to him to learn sitting down since #1 and #2 can be done seated.  As he has gotten older he has learned he can pee standing up.

3) Model Using the Potty

This video is hilarious!  Watch Love and Logic modeling potty training video now here.  Children learn through modeling so if we want them to be excited about using the potty then we need to show them we are excited about using the potty!  Too often we worry about personal privacy and send our kids mixed messages.  We say “Poop in the Potty!” but at the same time freak out if they open and walk in on us!  Instead of making it look fun and exciting we make it look scary to our kids.  It is an interesting perspective.  Of course once you have one child potty trained they can do most of the modeling for the other kids.

4) Take Them Often

Think about how often you had to go potty when you were pregnant….and that is about how often you should take your child.  Once you know how long they can hold it you can lengthen the time but for potty training I set a 30 minute timer between each potty time.

5) Find a Way to Keep Them On the Potty for 5 min

The key to potty training is to make it look fun, take them often (every 30 minutes or so), and have a way to keep them sitting on the potty relaxed for 5 minutes. I bought every potty training book out there for Mr Rockstar trying to help him understand what was going on.  WARNING! most of those books are just disturbing LOL.  The only book I found that helped and I didn’t mind reading over and over was Duck Goes Potty.  It is so simple but exactly what the kids need to know to understand what they are trying to accomplish!

Besides reading lots of books I would usually let the kids watch 5 minutes of a cartoon to keep them seated.  With Mr Rockstar we just put his little potty in front of the tv (I know I am a horrible mother) with the twins we could use the iPad in the bathroom.  For some reason though the iPotty (toddler potty with built in iPad holder) creeps me out.  Don’t you think it would be hard to take the iPad away after the child is potty trained if they were used to it being built into their potty?  Or maybe it is just me.

Besides books and cartoons you can also sing songs or just talk to your child.  Once they can consistently go in the potty there is no longer a need for the cartoons, books, etc.  They just go and are done.  So remember even if they are watching way more cartoons it is only for a couple weeks.

6) Have an Incentive

Usually I use chocolate chips (again this probably means I am a failure as a mother but I think the kids will survive).  I have also used stickers (Mr Rockstar hated stickers as a toddler so this was a no go when we was potty training) and withholding desired cartoons.  Find what is your child’s currency and use it!  Remember it won’t last forever.  Usually within a couple weeks the kids are potty trained enough to start weaning them off the incentive.

7) Put Sticky Notes in Your Purse

Leaving the house is a whole other ball game.  Hand dryers can be so terrifying because they are so loud.  Automatic flushing toilets are the bane of mothers everywhere.  To this day Mr Rockstar requires me to cover up the sensor before he will use the auto flush toilets.  If you put some sticky notes in your purse you can place one over the sensor and it will prevent it from flushing unexpectedly.  This is an awesome trick especially when you have 3 small children all in the same stall and all terrified of the auto flush.  If it just goes off once while you maneuver the next kid on the potty melt-downs will ensue.

8) Patience and Cloth Pull-ups

Have lots and lots of patience while potty training.  Miss Tomboy potty trained in a couple days at age 2.5 and had mastered going on the potty within a week.  But then when we started leaving the house she decided it was easier to go in her pull-up….and then she decided it was easier to go in her pull-up at home too.  I had cloth diapered the twins but once they started potty training I got lazy and opted for disposable pull-ups.  Bad idea!  After switching back to cloth pull-ups Miss Tomboy quickly re-potty trained.

At 2.5 I wasn’t sure Miss Princess was ready.  It turned out it took her 2 WEEKS before she went even once on the potty.  But once she went once she slowly got better and better and within 4 weeks she was completely potty trained and has not had any backsliding.

As long as your child is making progress just keep with it.  Try not to have a huge emotional response when they have an accident.  It freaks them out and they regress more (voice of experience here).  Nighttime dryness will just come with time.  I am convinced there is almost nothing you can do as a parent to help your child achieve this milestone.  If they are getting quite old and still wetting the bed then talk to your pediatrician.  I am thankful all my kids were pretty quickly dry at night once potty trained.  But it is not because of anything I did.  They were just ready.

What are your favorite potty training tips?  Have any horror stories to share?  😉

2 thoughts on “Day 27: Diapers and Duct Tape: Potty Training a SPD Kid”

  1. When I was in the hospital having #3, #2 stayed with grandma and came back trained. That was the only time that happened. I was relaxed about it, if they didn’t get it in a day or two I came back months later. Only advice: don’t forget the child is on the potty. I found #1 asleep a few times on it.

    1. That is how my mom got all of us potty trained! My Nanny would do it when she was in the hospital with a new baby. We would all be about two at the time. Maybe the trick is having grandma do it 😉 since they aren’t as anxious about it LOL.

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