We started putting Ellie on the toilet when she was about 30 months old. I know people who have trained 19, 20 month old toddlers,but Ellie never showed an interest, and with two other kids in diapers, changing one more kid wasn't that big of a deal. But then she was three, and nothing. She had already been diagnosed with PDD-NOS by this time, and the developmental pediatrician and all the literature said toilet training was a difficult skill for kids to learn. I didn't push it. She didn't need to be trained for school, since her IEP would cover her in diapers, and the preschool is licensed to manage toileting needs. And then she was four. And nothing. And meanwhile, all my friends' kids were completely self-sufficient, in underwear, able to travel. And Ellie still needed complete care....not to mention her anxiety about the toilet. She was so terrified. So absolutely unable to care for herself and terrified to try. We tried therapy with Dr. Cunningham...but her method, while helpful for some kids, did nothing for Ellie. We spent 10 weeks last summer doing her program, and nothing. (Helen got potty trained, so that was something in the big picture). And then we were staring down five, and kindergarten, and the fact that there was no physiological reason for her not to be trained. It was all anxiety, and "used to" habit, and her need to be cared for in that very personal, very tangible way by me.
The need for Ellie to manage her own toileting became a paramount importance. We consulted with Dr. Bardenstein in Cleveland Heights, who uses a play method therapy to inure resistent children to the idea of using the toilet. We worked with her for several months, weekly. Her program is slow steps, set to the child's pace. With Ellie, it was just getting her to hold toilet paper. Then a wipe. Then sit on the toilet. Then sit on the toilet longer. Then put her on the toilet regularly, and wait. And then, the diapers disappeared. And I tore up the carpet in the living room. And I went through 40 pairs of panties. And 5 boxes of Oxyclean. And 5 bottles of Mrs. Meyer's cleaner. And I cried. And she cried. And I got told time and again, "Ellie had an accident." And school was hard. And camp was hard. And I know she tries. And I sometimes can sweep it by, and not get upset, and say "it's okay, it's okay," and then sometimes it's all I can do not to beat my head against the sink while I clean her up, again, and sanitize the house, again, and wonder, will she ever do this? Will I ever not do it for her? Will I be able to take her anywhere without worrying, do I have wipes? Do I have extra panties? Do I need to always listen for that feral sound in her throat, watch for the rigidity, as she has no control over her body, as mistimes her reaction, and murmurs, in her flat voice, "I had an accident, an accident."
I really can't listen to breezy, pretty mothers spin tales of "struggling" to potty train their 24 month old typically developing children. I want to smack them and say, this isn't a struggle. This is just a child who isn't ready. My experience has been three years in the making. Three years. It took from me, and it took from Ellie. I have never felt more judged, more misunderstood, more alone, than in trying to accomplish this for Ellie, with her. A few stood by me, supported me, and they know who they are. And without them, I would not even be able to crystallize this experience in language. They saved me. And hopefully, through their love, I saved my child from a lifetime of dependence and disability. I hope I gave her confidence and esteem. That's all we can do for our children. That's all we can do for each other.