Don’t Judge Me: On Potty Training an Autistic Child
Written by Beth Clay
I spent my morning yesterday looking for coupons for the adult diapers that I buy for my 15-year old son.
He was diagnosed with autism at the age of 18 months. His entire life has been, and continues to be, an adventure; a multi-faceted, multi-layered, bumpy road, roller coaster-esque, joy-filled and sometimes heartache-filled adventure. But at the age of fifteen, my son still wears adult diapers at night.
We started seeing a doctor who specialized in autism when Cooper was about four. He was wearing pull-ups full time, with no inclination toward letting them go. One of the first questions that my husband asked the doctor was when Cooper would be potty trained.
The doctor peered over her glasses and said, “Typically, around the age of 7.″ And she moved right along.
I think we were both a little stunned and, to be honest, disappointed.
There are times when we feel confident about our parenting. There are also times when we feel vulnerable, like we have failed. We definitely were not feeling confident after that visit.
One of the biggest obstacles that any parent faces is potty training. It was for us too, only more so because it never ended. It is ongoing.
Potty training is hard, and it can be embarrassing to have an older child still in pull-ups. It’s embarrassing because you know that other parents are judging you.
You know they are looking at your big boy as you are trying to hoist him up onto that bathroom changing table, where his feet will hang off and you pray the whole time that the thing doesn’t break. You’re in a sweat, cursing your husband because he never takes your child to the bathroom.
It’s right about this time you catch someone out of the corner of your eye, and you know they are watching you and thinking “If they would just…”.
I find myself thinking, “If I would just what? I have tried. I have tried everything that I know to do, and it doesn’t work.”
Sometimes you find yourself standing in a public restroom attempting to change your large child and you are paralyzed with fear, with guilt, and with the judgment of others. That is the trifecta of immobilizing power strong enough to bring down a bull moose.
But what hurts the most isn’t the judgment from other parents. It’s knowing that this is just one more thing that you can’t fix, you can’t help your child with, and that you can’t take away.
This isn’t what any parent wants: a child with a disability that results in a life time of diaper changes. But it is what many of us live with though.
We adjust. We adapt. We survive.
I still have hope. However, I also know that if he wears the diapers forever, we will make it through.
So when you walk into a restroom and see a mother doing the best she can to adjust and adapt, just smile and say hi. If you can– if it doesn’t feel too weird– you could even offer to help. She will probably politely refuse, because mothers like us are not often used to help.
But I can promise you that her heart is smiling.