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How to Potty Train a Kid With Special Needs

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Potty training a child with special needs felt like a big job to me. I recalled our speech-therapy visits where there was another boy with Down syndrome, running through the office at age 7 smelling of poop. During one of our weekly sessions, the nanny was there in the mother's place. Curious, I quietly asked, "Why isn't he potty trained?" I feared this would be my fate and wanted to prepare myself. Leaning in toward me, she whispered, "Because his parents are the problem." We both turned forward and never spoke again.

Filled with fear, I was determined not to be the reason my son wasn't potty trained. I started talking to other parents, reading books, and searching for the road I would take with my son in this effort. Some parents told me they potty trained by having their child sit on the toilet for three days straight. There were parents that said I should just trust him, allowing him to potty train in his own time. I'd had some experience letting him self-wean from the breast. But when he was still nursing at 3-and-a-half, I realized he might need some assistance. Sometimes my son's pace was just too slow for me. After lots of thought and many conversations, I consulted a behavioral therapist, who suggested I turn our entire world into potty-training land.

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For three months everything we did involved potty training. On days when we were home most of the day, I kept my son naked and the potty in the middle of our living room floor. We read books about potty training, sang songs about potty training and talked about potty training a lot. I told the mailman, our grocer, and all our family members to talk about potty training. I bought my son superhero underwear with the hope that he would feel strong and powerful wearing it. For the first few months, he resisted. I battled the frustration.

I could not tell myself that Down syndrome would determine when and if my son would use the potty.

One day my son's father found a potty-training watch. The watch could be set to play a nursery rhyme at any time that we chose, signaling Zion to go use the potty. Zion loved the watch and felt special wearing it. Without my urging, he would go potty when the potty watch alarmed. The three months I dedicated to potty training blossomed into nine, but it finally clicked for him. He was potty trained. Though there were periodic accidents and many reminders from me to use the bathroom, our son very rarely had nighttime accidents. We were proud to pass the potty watch on to one of his classmates whose parents were also struggling.

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Today Zion is in a kindergarten class in which many of his peers have special needs and are not potty trained. I can only say I was determined to have my son potty trained, and I went to great lengths to do so. The day the behavioral therapist visited, he was clear when he said it would be up to me to be consistent and persistent. I could only focus on my desired outcome. I could not tell myself that Down syndrome would determine when and if my son would use the potty. My will, and my work, would be the deciding factors.

Today we have accidents occasionally. I still remind him to go to the potty every now and again. And often I hear him running through the house to get to the bathroom fast, without any urging at all. These are times I know I did my part, and rest is up to him.

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