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Potty Training: The Longest Journey

Jennifer Arnold by Jennifer Arnold Additional Needs

Jennifer Arnold

Jennifer Arnold

I’m passionate about raising awareness about disability issues through education and outreach. When I’m not wearing my writer hat, I’m usually tryi...

Eleven years. That’s how long our potty-training journey has been.

It started when our daughter Lilly was about two and a half. She had recently been diagnosed with autism and intellectual disability, and she also has multiple medical issues stemming from a rare genetic condition. We knew it would be a rough road, but we never anticipated precisely how long and how bumpy that road would be.

She resisted with every fiber of her being when we tried to persuade her to use the toilet. We bought a little step stool, and later a cute little princess potty. She wasn’t having any of it.

It took years before she was even able to communicate that she had gone in her diaper, and even that wasn’t consistent.

We had the same issues with our son, Chance. He also has the same rare condition that Lilly has. Although he doesn’t share her diagnosis of autism or intellectual disability, he has plenty of developmental challenges of his own. We bought him a little frog potty chair when he was about four years old because he had expressed a little interest in using the toilet, but he was so tiny it was hard to get himself situated on it, even with step-stool and a toilet insert.

Even though the frog potty never got used for the purpose for which it was intended, it was well-loved. He loved putting small toys in it and carrying it around the house. I even found him taking a nap in his toddler bed with it one day. Each time we attempted to potty train, it ended up backfiring, and we felt defeated. We would drop it for a few months and then begin again.

I knew they were both capable of toilet training; I found out from their teachers a couple of years ago that they were occasionally sitting and going in the toilets at school…so it was frustrating and baffling to us that they had no interest in doing it at home no matter what we tried.

Fast forward to late last year, right around Thanksgiving. Chance started requesting to wear underwear. We told him that he needed to show us that he could go in the toilet every time he needed to go to the bathroom.

“Even poop?” he asked.

“Yes. Especially poop!”

It took a few days of trying and a promise of brand-new underwear with the character of his choosing, but he finally did it.

In January, we moved to a new house, and Lilly regressed a little bit. We had finally gotten to a place where she would go pee in the toilet, but she started going in her diaper again and not even telling us when she had gone. We figured it was back to square one.

About a month after the schools closed due to COVID-19 precautions, something shifted. One day she just decided to put on a pair of the new underwear (from a previous potty-training attempt) that has been sitting in her dresser for months, and she has been diaper-free ever since.

We still have to clean up the occasional accident. They both still need to be continuously reminded about good hygiene practices and prompted to clean themselves thoroughly, but overall, it has been fantastic to see them hit this milestone.

I know some may think this is oversharing, especially given their ages (Lilly is almost 14 and Chance is 9). I usually don’t write or post too much about sensitive issues like this regarding my kids’ disabilities, but I think it serves as an important reminder that our kids will hit some milestones in their own time, on their own terms, when they are good and ready. Never lose hope!


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