November 9, 2010

Ode de Toilet

Posted in Life's Little Moments tagged , , at 8:57 pm by autismmommytherapist


One toilet.

One seven-year-old boy.

Three game cartridges.

One flush.

Four hundred dollars in plumbing costs.

One irate husband.

Three more “flushable offence” attempts.

One hook installed on bathroom door.

Two years of facilitating independent toileting in one autistic child, now literally down the crapper.

One really pissed-off mother.


I am happy to admit that in this household when one door closes the proverbial window often opens, but this week I’d have to say it was more of a sliding glass door that yawned wide for this family. It seems after only three-and-a-half weeks of being convinced that relieving himself on the potty was inherently a terrorist plot conceived entirely by mean mommy, my youngest son, Zach, has changed his mind. Of course I should note that he ceased to have accidents in school a mere twenty-four hours after being introduced to underwear, yet decided to frequently torture his parents despite multiple potty seats and so many bribes for success that his college fund is in serious jeopardy.

Trust me, this boy knows how to work it.

To tell you the truth, although doing sixteen loads of wash a day for the better part of a month wasn’t really a part of my extravagant life plan to live large, I was able to deal with it because of that little voice in my head, the one that I’m certain is REAL. My loquacious friend was kind enough to inform me this particular child was going to “get it” quickly, that I just had to find the correct reinforcer, and all would be well. Unlike Justin, who ultimately needed to be yelled at to stop watering my carpet more than nine months after we started, I knew Zach would only respond to positive reinforcement and the precisely correct “prize”. If I wanted him to have success, it was up to me to figure out what would make him go.

For several weeks I tried pretzels, GF/CF Halloween cookies, the promise of trains, planes, and automobiles, additional tv time, etc., all to no avail. Hell, at one point I even promised him an extra visit with Pat, his favorite babysitter and the woman he’s pledged to marry someday. You know you’re desperate when you’re contemplating shelling out $30 just to see some yellow liquid in your potty.

Eventually I hit on the idea of trading Halloween books for urinary output, and I could tell the idea was enticing to him. He REALLY wanted those books, and as I paraded around the house with them, regaling him with titles including dinosaurs, ugly pumpkins, and confused ghosts, I could literally see him contemplating the cost of those reads, wondering if he could conquer his fear of our potty for the twenty consecutive seconds required to pee. He was tempted, and I knew I was reeling him in. Finally, one afternoon when he’d clearly transformed into a camel and held it in for no less than three solid hours, I was eventually witness to an extreme version of the “peepee dance”. I quickly whisked him off to our bathroom, told him he was staying there until he went, and dangled those books right in front of his little face.

He was mad. He was sad. There were tears and wringing of the hands. Since he has the memory of a young elephant I am certain down the road he will remind me of my treachery as often as humanly possible, and attempt to leverage it for something really expensive.

But eventually, he went. He joyfully, gloriously, christened our toilet, and it only took five minutes (and one month) of waiting to hear that melodious porcelain tinkle. He was proud. I was relieved, and eternally grateful that “the store is closed” and this is the last time and the last child whom I will ever have to train (I know you’ve all been dying to bequeath your offspring to me, but unless they’re bathroom savvy, don’t even think about it). His satisfaction was a thrill to behold, and I think these pictures say it all:

October 15, 2010

Potty Planning

Posted in Life's Little Moments tagged , , , , at 6:14 am by autismmommytherapist

“No way, the potty is closed!” Zach cries as he runs into the living room, my middle-aged ass trying desperately to catch up to him. “No hon, it’s open for your business” I yell at his retreating back, moments before I finally manage to corner him between the couch and the chair. “BUT I DON’T WANT TO GO ON THE POTTY!!!!” he informs me in no uncertain terms, and I realize if we’re to keep true to our “every half-hour potty training protocol” I’m going to have to carry him bodily to the toilet, kicking and screaming as we go. This is not exactly how I envisioned our two-hour break between pre-school and nap to go today, but since I’ve already been through this once with the other kid, the one who took over a year to train, I find myself oddly unmoved by his pleas. Sadly, for Zach, I used up all of my “potty empathy” on his older brother. He’s just going to have to suck it up.

They say all kids are different, and this adage is certainly holding true when it comes to my sons and their spectrum issues, even down to good old pee pee on the potty. When Jeff and I went through this years ago with Justin he showed no fear of releasing his waste to the porcelain god, just an utter disdain at the thought that he was required to make any kind of effort in the removal of his bodily fluids. Frankly, he would have been perfectly happy to have me wipe his ass for the remainder of his life, and there was a period of time when I thought that was exactly what was going to happen. Justin’s issues with the bathroom centered around pure laziness, an unwillingness to relinquish a toy or a moment with his DVD player that he could never get back. He was simply being stubborn about learning a new skill.

Can’t imagine where he picked that up.

My youngest, on the other hand, seems to be terrified of the entire concept. And yes, we read Elmo Goes on the Potty beforehand. We’ve had him cheer for Justin’s peepees and poopies for the last year, even allowed him to flush them away, a treat which satisfies him to this very day. He has a reward system of his choosing in place, one in which the child only has to sprinkle the pristine surface of the toilet water on three separate occasions to get his coveted prize, a new Halloween book (yup, he’s my son). We’ve already aborted this mission once in the spring when he had just turned three (and his poor pre-school teacher was changing sodden clothes five times a day), and I am determined that this time we will stick it out, AS GOD IS MY WITNESS. So far, he’s emulated his brother completely, staying completely dry at school, urinating once in the toilet just to show off, then returning home.

Yes, home, where for the last week I’ve run through three detergent bottles in as many days. I’m so thrilled to put the children of Tide’s employees through college this fall.

I have to admit, when we did this with Justin we had moments of real despair, knowing that although it’s the exception and not the rule, there are adults with autism still in diapers. Apparently, mastering the art of the potty has nothing to do with how intelligent they are, so the fact that Justin was reading at three was no clear predictor of whether or not he’d require Depends. It took thirteen months (but who’s counting) to get him to a semi-independent place in the bathroom, and I have never been more relieved than when his clean clothes finally began to outnumber his dirty on a daily basis. I believe I actually did a happy dance.

No, you will not see it on YouTube.

The truth is I’m much more inured to Zach’s angst because we’ve been successful once before, he is fairly easy to cajole out of terror, and because I’m pretty certain the allure of a Tyrannosaurus Rex Halloween book will outweigh his fears eventually. That, coupled with the fact that I’m also certain he has a thing for blonds and won’t want to be dating in diapers, gives me hope that this child will conquer this skill too, and hopefully before Halloween 2011. Perhaps I’m being premature, but I swear I saw a slight grin through his tantrum the other day when he thought I wasn’t looking, and the giant smile he sported when he finally did tinkle in the appropriate receptacle could not have been faked. I may be going out on a limb here, but I believe, OH I BELIEVE, my diaper days are numbered.

But if you hear loud screams from central Jersey in the next few months, you’ll know I was wrong

October 8, 2010


Posted in Fun Stuff tagged , , , , , , at 6:20 am by autismmommytherapist

This year, my husband decided to buy our Halloween candy in September, and not the crappy kind, mind you. No dots, licorice, or Smarties are gracing our dining room table, hiding in plain sight. No, my husband has opted this year to select the good stuff, the Kit Kats, the Milky Ways, and of course, Reeses Peanut Butter Cups, which I believe with all my heart are the “chosen” candy. He has done this, instead of waiting until two days before the holiday to get it “fresh” like he usually does, because apparently there was a good sale. He has purchased this chocolate with quite blatant disregard, knowing that in October I have to fit into three separate outfits to attend a Bar Mitzvah, my twenty-fifth high school reunion, and my annual “get away from the boys” girls’ weekend in DC.

I believe in divorce court this would constitute a stellar example of extreme mental cruelty.

I suppose I’ll eventually forgive him, as he has promised to hide the offenders somewhere in the house that I’ll never look for them (they will probably make their home in one of the thirty boxes labeled “KIM’S STUFF” residing in our garage, the ones I was supposed to unpack when we relocated four years ago). I guess I’ll have to move on, because he took the time this weekend to fill our house with “Halloween spookies”, weeks earlier than I generally would have had to harass him to do it. He redecorated because he knows I adore the holiday, the ghosts and goblins who will take up residence throughout our home, the ten thousand times Zach will change his mind about what costume he’s going to wear, the promise of infiltrating the afterlife.

And of course, there’s always the time-honored tradition of post-Halloween candy stealing when my boys aren’t looking.

It’s a little insane for us to keep decorating every year. My youngest has developed a number of anxieties over the past several months that include the supernatural, and my oldest’s OCD will ensure that the flying witch on our piano and its neighbor, the moving mummy, will never have a moment’s rest. We’ll have to be on constant patrol, reassuring Zach that everything he sees is make-believe, and preventing Justin from spinning every pumpkin we have, whether they’re plugged into a socket or not. My husband and I will have to be more vigilant than usual, which is saying a lot, but the truth is it’s worth it, for one gigantic reason.

Halloween makes me happy.

I’ve loved All Saint’s day since I was a kid, back in the pre-global warming days when I’d fight with my mom about wearing a coat over my costume, those pre-historic times when trick-or-treating lasted about four hours and was not necessarily transacted with an accompanying adult. Much like my birthday, I felt Halloween was simply too big a concept to be contained in one day, so I granted it a month. When I was little, I celebrated by reading everything about the occult that I could get my hands on, and I often bribed my friends to play “Ouiji board” with me (connections to the immortal world are clearly stronger in October). Now that I’m a mom, October 1st includes the purchase of new spooky stories, crafts galore from A.C. Moore, and the profound hope that my children won’t mind wearing their respective Halloween shirts at least three times a week between now and November.

We all go crazy differently.

The truth is, I’ll let Halloween go head-to-head with Christmas any day, regard it as a far more low-maintenance holiday which thrills me to no end. I’ve decided that even if I have to Velcro Justin to my side for a month every fall we’re going to keep doing this, because the sight of their faces when they first see the  living room in the dark, Justin inserting his loud “eeeeeeeeeee” into the equation, Zach gripping me so tightly with his legs and arms that any boa would be proud, brings me joy. And within this life, this crazy life with two boys on the autism spectrum, I’ve realized in order to parent these children the way they need to be parented, mommy had better find herself some more joy.

When my friends ask me how things are going I usually respond that they’re going well, that it’s “kids, chores, and writing”. I tell them that we’ve reached a sort of détente with autism in this house, that we are generally happy. Most of the time it’s the truth, and part of that is because I manage to carve out time for myself now, precious hours that are solely about me, not laundry, errands, or Pap smears.

There was a time back in VA that my entire existence literally centered around Justin, that our days were composed of simply chores and therapy, and of course tears, both his and mine. I made my son and his autism my entire world, and nearly lost myself in the process. I learned the hard way, six months into our twenty-five hour a week therapeutic regime, after I had reached rock bottom, that I had better start taking care of myself if I wanted to take care of him. Jeff was at work, my family was in NJ, and short of video-conferencing, there was no way I was getting out of my home for therapy. If I wanted to be whole, healthy and happy again, nobody was going to do it for me. I had to do it for myself.

Hell, I just had to get out of the house.

And I did. I slowly began to carve out time for friends again, relinquished ABA hours on weekends and let Jeff and Justin watch football instead of teaching him how to clap again. I went shopping. I saw bad matinees. Sometimes I just went to Michael’s and bought craft kits I knew I’d never use. It didn’t matter what I did, as long as there was a bit of escape involved, and access to an activity that didn’t require six consecutive hours of pinching.

Clearly, I’m a converted behaviorist.

And for anyone out there with a child who’s just been diagnosed, please learn from my example. Do whatever it takes to keep some pieces of your pre-child life intact, even if it annoys your husband or occasionally frightens a babysitter. A few hours away from your child will not make the difference between whether or not he speaks, is potty-trained, or drives you insane with his text-messaging bills. Take care of yourself. Find your joy again. And I promise, as I dim the lights once more this evening for our seventh consecutive showing of “spookies”, I’ll continue to heed my own counsel.

Because nobody likes mean mommy.

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