From the bottom of the stairs I can hear my wife shouting, “Push! Push! You’re doing well! Relax! Try moving your legs out a little!” It sounds like, inspired by ‘One Born Every Minute’, she has taken up a course of midwifery. But she hasn’t: she is trying to get our son to do a poo. The look on her face when she comes back downstairs tells me she has not succeeded. B will not be getting five stars on his toilet chart or that CD he wants this time. Or, indeed, anytime.
This is a familiar scene in our house. Try as we might, we have never conquered toilet training during B’s four and a half years. Strategies have come and gone, toileting courses attended and books read. ‘Pirate Pete and his Potty’ failed to move him and no movements came as a result of the social story we wrote. Try as we might, B has simply not been ready. We’ve questioned, and been questioned about whether we’ve tried hard enough but the truth is, we’ve tried as hard as we can. I’m thankful that we have an older son with whom we proved we could do it under more typical circumstances. Perhaps there are experts out there who could have made a breakthrough, but for us mere mortals, it’s been nigh on impossible.
This week, inspired by a chat with Autism Outreach, we decided to step up our efforts, again. Preparations were made: a new sticker chart, a potty within reach, and many, many pairs of pants. In addition to these, B was equipped with ‘Dry Like Me’, a pant liner designed to help the transition from nappies. ‘How do you put these on?’ I asked my wife. ‘They’re just like a sanitary towel’, she replied, helping me not one bit.
The plan was to keep B in pants in the house and closely monitor him. At these times we turn our backs at our peril. B has sense enough to know that when the tap is turned on, it’s preferable to let it hit the floor rather than run down his legs and soak into his clothes. He does this in a flash. How can anyone remove shoes, socks, trousers and pants that quickly? How is that possible? The result is a lake of urine that was not there when you looked at him five seconds ago. It is worse if B is engaged in an activity that he does not want to stop, usually the DS or (oh, the irony) the Wii. He will happily let it happen in his pants at those times, only afterwards bothering to get his clothes off or tell someone. Now that’s hardcore gaming.
And then, a breakthrough… this week, B has done a poo on the toilet. Twice.
Before I get carried away and give all the credit to myself, I must point out that it was my wife who made the success possible. Having put him in pants, she watched him like a hawk. The slightest hint that there might be something on the way and she was there, ready. She has become something of an expert at reading ‘poo face’ or ‘poo posture’- that is, the slightest of changes in B that precede business. She really can tell. As a result she becomes the Poo Police when B is in pants, ready with a cry of ‘Code Brown!’ and the two minute warning that gives us. On the first occasion, she ‘read’ him and I pessimistically led him upstairs to the bathroom for the usual battle.
In an effort to relax him, I tried to make him laugh. I can’t say I’ve ever found laughing on the toilet helps me go (or tried for that matter) but something made me decide to try it. The thing he finds most amusing at the moment is when I speak French to him (or ‘Franklish’ as he calls it). So I began to mutter a few words in French, a little bit of counting and the odd phrase or two. He found this hilarious, and seemed to forget he was on the toilet at all. Before continuing, I made him understand that if he tried pushing, I would say something else. Lo and behold he tried; he clearly tried. So I continued.
I should point out at this stage that my French is, at best, limited. I achieved grade C at GCSE but it should have been an E, and I have never since used what little French I learnt. This meant that time was not really on my side with this particular strategy. Before long I would have exhausted everything I know. Nonetheless, we proceeded.
‘Que’ll age tu?’
‘Ou est la patisserie?’
‘Je voudrais une banane!’
‘Voulez vous coucher avec moi, ce soir?’ (getting desperate now)
And then, like a miracle, there it was. He literally laughed it out of his body.
We shared a moment of stunned silence, before erupting into joyous celebration. B was as pleased as I was, and totally understood the significance of what had just happened. Finally, a poo on the toilet!
I’m going to gloss over the next three days of toilet failure and skip to the next victory. This time I was better prepared, and had downloaded a French phrase app to my phone. It says French phrases out loud, so you don’t have to. There was no stopping us now. Different types of fruit and vegetables? Click. Going to the shops? Click. Days, Months and Seasons? Et voila! At school, the teachers would always tell us the value in learning a language. Could they ever have possibly conceived that this would be one of its uses?
Once is a fluke, but twice… that suggests, to me, a minor breakthrough. Only time will tell, although circumstances may well work against us. It’s one thing keeping him in pants in the house, but how are we going to persuade school to let him wear them? And are we brave enough to go for it when we leave the house at weekends? That’s asking a lot but is probably the only way we are going to be able to capitalise on our successes so far.
Autism changes your life in funny ways. Who would have thought that my happiest moment in weeks would come while I was on all fours in the bathroom staring up my son’s backside?
I feel confident we can build on this success. Wish me luck. Vive la toilette!