Sunday, May 18, 2014

Julianna, Part 8: Potty Training

After being turned down by the regional center for the 3rd time, and then by the school district for potty training help through an ABA provider, I felt pretty hopeless. She was about to start 1st grade in just 2 1/2 months, and I did not want her in a diaper all day at school. I knew that she would be so much happier and carefree if she could achieve this crucial life skill. But the fear she had was overpowering, and I didn't know how to help her anymore. All my attempts were unsuccessful, and the last two times I decided to keep her in underwear until she used the toilet, because I knew she wouldn't go in her underwear. She ended up withholding so long that we took her to the ER twice, and each time was traumatizing for her, which only prolonged her inability to toilet train. The previous summer, I had potty trained Blake in just 3 days, so I knew I had the ability to do it; when it came to Julianna, she just needed the right person to do it, and that person wasn't me.

I began researching online, calling people, looking for doctors or specialists. I reached out to a good friend who was a teacher of an autism kindergarten class, tried her methods, and that didn't work either. I knew that those ABA therapists were the answer, but I also knew they were expensive. Because I had no other options, I began calling some ABA providers, explaining our situation. I told them neither the regional center nor the school district was helping our child in this area, and wanted to know how I could hire someone to come to our home just to potty train Julianna. I found that this is extremely unordinary:  ABA therapy is done using a specific protocol, and to have someone come to work on just one skill was not something they did. But I begged and pleaded, and told them I just needed help to do this one thing. So this agency had to talk to the higher-ups and pull some strings, but it was approved; Julianna would have a qualified ABA therapist coming to our home for 16 hours, broken up into two 4-hour sessions, and one 8-hour session, in the second week of August, literally days before she started 1st grade. Everything was riding on this, and we were putting all our trust in these people, now paying for the service ourselves.

Well the big day came (I say this a lot, don't I?) and we met Julianna's therapist, Wendy. The first day she spent a whole 4 hours getting to know Julianna and her interests, building a rapport with her, so she would be comfortable when they got to the potty training. After it was over, I was a little unimpressed, and felt like spending the first session doing this was a little wasteful. But then during the second session, Wendy really stepped it up, and spent more time in the bathroom with Julianna. I began to feel like this was going somewhere, though Julianna still had not done anything yet.

The day before the final session, we were told to fill Julianna up with liquids and make her withhold right after dinner. So we put underwear on her around 5:30, and she stayed dry and clean all night. This was Julianna's last chance to have success on the toilet with Wendy during this long session. I had never been so nervous. She arrived at 9 am, and we got started right away with the "potty party." Basically, this meant we would be in the bathroom, Julianna sitting on the toilet, until something happened, all day if we had to. We brought all her favorite books and toys into the bathroom, yummy treats and drinks, a portable DVD player with movies, everything we needed to keep her occupied. The first part of the day, Wendy was there with her, and as it got to lunch time, I was asked to be in there with her, coaching her along. I couldn't help Blake lay down for a nap, and he actually fell asleep on my lap as I sat next to Julianna on the bathroom floor.

I knew Wendy would be leaving at 4:15, and as the hours ticked by, and nothing happened, I was so worried that all this would be a waste of time and money. Around 2 pm, Julianna began to get very upset because of the distress she felt, and was screaming nonstop, and flapping her arms; I had never seen her so worked up in her 6 years of life. She was trying so hard NOT to go, but she also needed to go so badly that it was causing her to be in lots of pain. But Wendy didn't give up on her, and kept telling her she could do it. I was on the other side, doing the same.

This continued for over an hour, and at one point I had to go downstairs to get something, and while I was down there, I felt impressed to say a prayer for Julianna. I don't think I've ever felt the spirit so strongly, or prayed with so much faith in my entire experience as a mom. I prayed that Julianna would overcome this fear and be able to release on the toilet with Wendy there, because I knew that would be the only way she would progress. I went back upstairs with more hope than I had before. And around 3:45, just 30 minutes before the session was over and we would have to say goodbye to Wendy, Julianna peed in the toilet. She cried and cried, and Wendy and I celebrated and told her how proud we were of her. All it took was doing it that one time, and after that, she was able to go with no problem. Bowel movements came in the following week, after many accidents, but Julianna was able to do it, finally, after many years. She still remembers Wendy and talks about her.

A few weeks later, the bills arrived. We got the first bill, and had to figure out where the money would come from. But because of our faith, we were blessed: we got two separate checks in the mail, one was from a traffic ticket that we got reimbursed for, the other was from our mortgage company, completely unexpected. These two checks equalled the exact amount that we needed to pay the ABA provider. This was a huge testament to us that when you have faith, miracles will happen; the biggest miracle being Julianna, who overcame her fear of using the toilet, something we were told many children like her would not be able to do.

Because she was trained just a few days before school started, the IEP team allowed her to do independent study for 10 days so I could continue working with her at home. By the end of that period, she returned to school, in a new resource class that had a bathroom in the room, and very supportive aids to assist her. Things were finally looking up for Julianna: mastering this life skill was a huge burden off everyone's shoulders, mostly mine. I could finally breathe again, for a little while...


  1. I am still there. For a different reason, but it took me 2 1/2 yrs to potty train my son, honestly, the darkest days of my life. We have recently started having accidents again. I don't know why, I had a complete melt down when I found out his kindergarten class that he will start in this fall has no bathroom. Your faith, gives me hope that we can still get this under control by this fall. Thank you for this sweet reminder.

  2. Thank you, Wendy. I know it really is possible for most kids. It just takes the right person sometimes! It USA very humbling experience realizing that many of the things you expect to teach your child to do can't be done by you, the mother. But I am grateful for trained professionals who were able to help us. Good luck to you!