Toilet training is a daunting undertaking in the best of circumstances. For those of us with children who have White Sutton Syndrome (WHSUS), it can be even more so. Hurdles that typically developing children face like sensory overload, fearfulness and self-awareness are often compounded by the limitations and challenges that many kids with WHSUS face.
Before beginning to train, it’s imperative to remember this: It’s a commitment. It’s entirely possible and even likely that you will be working on this with your child for a year or more. We’ve been working on this with our son for the last 3 years. Don’t get discouraged, and don’t give up – the reward at the end of this long (and often messy) road is lifelong toileting independence for your child! Below are some general tips for WHSUS parents, and some further resources that you can tap to help your child succeed.
Listen to Your Child
This might seem like a cruel joke, since many children with WHSUS have autism, and many are non-verbal. But I’m serious: being aware of the verbal and nonverbal cues your child gives will help you tell when they are ready to begin toilet training. Are they expressing discomfort when they have a soiled diaper or pull-up? Great! Are they bringing you supplies to change them when they’ve soiled their pants? Awesome! Are they making it through the night without an accident? Wonderful! These are all signs that they’re ready to begin transitioning to using the toilet.
Get Them On Board
It’s so important that your child wants to succeed at toilet training. If they aren’t invested in it, you could be fighting an unnecessary uphill battle for longer than you need to. Once you’ve decided to begin training, get your child excited about it. Take them to the store to select their own special toilet (or seat if they’re older). Include the characters your child enjoys in social stories about toilet training. Talk about toilet training excessively throughout the day. Make a big production out of celebrating each success. When our son pooped in the toilet for the first time, we had a literal dance party, cranking up the Echo, putting on his favorite song and dancing with him around the house. You can bet he remembered that the next time he pooped in the toilet.
Don’t Commit to Just One Strategy
Toilet training is not an exact science. While there are a ton of possible strategies out there, it has to work for your child, so be aware of their strengths and struggles and cater your strategy to them. If something is obviously not working, move on and try something else. After trying social stories, a visual schedule and food rewards with only limited success, we discovered that our son was very motivated by small dollar store trinkets as a reward for pooping in the toilet. While he still isn’t completely trained, we now have a strategy that can help him move past many of the typical barriers to pooping in the toilet.
Set Achievable Toilet Goals
Don’t expect to go directly from a diaper or pull-up to the toilet. Often there are many barriers to overcome on the way to success. Do your best to identify these challenges and help your child tackle them one at a time. For our son, our goal was to eventually have him sit to urinate, since standing often resulted in messes. However, he was very resistant and fearful of sitting initially, so we allowed him to stand. Doing so allowed him to get comfortable with using the toilet and to cultivate the basic idea that peeing happened in the toilet, not in his pants. Once we achieved that goal, we were able to move on to conquering his fear of sitting.
Don’t Worry About What is “Normal”
This may seem obvious, but is often a big source of discouragement for parents of children with special needs. We wouldn’t dream of requiring the same level of academic achievement from them as we would expect from a typically developing child. Neither should we impose “normal” expectations of our special kids when it comes to toilet training. There is no normal age at which to begin this. There is no normal amount of time that it should take to meet success. Each child is different, and will gain toileting independence on their own schedule. Others may be aghast that your 8-year-old is still pooping in a pull-up. Don’t listen to them! Keep working toward the goals you have set one day at a time and celebrate each small success along the way.