A while ago I published an article called Potty Training a Child with Sensory Processing Disorder. The reason I did this article was for my own personal knowledge as well as to share some advice with other parents of SPD kids. I have two boys with Sensory Processing Disorder. One was diagnosed at age 5; the other is currently 4 and on the waiting list for an evaluation. He has not been diagnosed, but with my personal and academic knowledge I can’t imagine that he doesn’t have SPD.
My oldest began potty training around age 2.5. He wasn’t successfully trained until he was closer to 3.5. If I had known about SPD back then I’m sure it would have reduced a lot of frustration for both of us. He was my first (and only at the time) so potty training was brand new to me and I didn’t know that his resistance was indicative of anything else. He was, and is, a very smart boy and he was eager to please me. He just could not get the hang of potty training. He is a sensory avoider and hated being dirty, finger painting, or anything else that involved being messy. I just could not figure out why he didn’t care if he sat in a wet or dirty diaper! We tried a timer, we tried training diapers, and we tried going right to underwear. It didn’t matter, he just wasn’t getting it. He knew the concept, but he just couldn’t get there in time.
When he got his diagnosis we found out he has low muscle tone and poor coordination. Even though he is overly sensitive to some sensations, I think he wasn’t sensitive enough to the feeling that he needed to go potty and therefore could not help but have an accident. His poor coordination also made it difficult for him to undress and sit on the potty. After a year of trying his body seemed to finally catch up to his mind and he gained more control of his muscles. He continued to have problems starting to pee in his pants and running to the bathroom for a few years, but he was successfully in underwear all the time.
My younger boy also has SPD, but he is a sensory seeker. The messier, the louder, and the more action the better. He also has chronic diarrhea either due to SPD or from Gulf War Syndrome from his father. Since his brother is a full four years older than him, he was eager to start potty training when he was around two. However, like his brother, he just couldn’t control the muscles. He also wasn’t bothered by a messy diaper and I think he enjoyed the sensation. Again like his brother, he is very smart and knew the concept, but lacked the physical ability.
We tried going to underwear, but due to his chronic diarrhea this just wasn’t going to work. We used disposable training pants for almost two years before I wrote that article. We had done every tip and trick that I have read and I finally just decided to to right to underwear and have the carpet scrubber handy just in case. At the age of 4.5 we took the plunge right to underwear and disposable pants at night.
To my complete and utter amazement he finally started going on the potty all the time. He does have an accident every few days, but that’s normal for any kid I think. I do remind him every hour or so that he needs to go potty, but he’s pretty good about going himself. He does also start in his pants and runs to the bathroom like his brother did. I think this is due to the poor communication between his muscles and his brain.
It was a long, tough journey for both the boys and I. I always kept my patience in front of them, but when they weren’t around I would get so frustrated. It’s easy to forget this is just as frustrating for them. If you are potty training a child with SPD, give a lot of praise and love for the good effort and forget the mistakes. I told both of my boys I would never punish them for an accident and they would be rewarded for trying their best. It’s easy to lose your patience when you’re cleaning up the 4th accident for that day, but remember how frustrating it is for the child to have no control of this.