Potty Training a Sensory Seeker

My son was almost 4 before we finally achieved what I felt was impossible. I had started the potty training process at 2 because all of the “typical” signs of potty readiness were there. He was showing an interest in the bathroom and the toilet, he was asking questions and he was starting to hide behind doors and in corners when he was going in his diaper. I remember thinking that this should be a breeze. Little did I know.

My son had begun to exhibit signs of sensory processing difficulties a little before two but the extent of his difficulties didn’t really appear until closer to age 3. This made the whole potty training process a nightmare. My son is, for the most part, a sensory seeker. He has improved a lot but at this point in this life, he was at his busiest, touching everything in sight, jumping and crashing, and somewhat climbing the walls at times. The first difficulty we had was simply getting him to sit on the toilet at all. Sitting still was very difficult for him. He actually liked the feel of the regular toilet better then the confines of the small potty chair. He also was insistent on wanting to stand up to urinate. I bought a potty seat insert and we began spending a lot of time together in the bathroom, as I would read book after book to him just to keep him sitting on the toilet. I would scoot him in every 1/2 hour and sometimes we were able to catch it and he would urinate. I couldn’t get him to sit for long enough in order for him to poop on the toilet. For several months, he wore pull-ups and was doing fairly well at going in to go pee on the potty. However, this came and went and we found ourselves, invariably, starting over from scratch every week. I just couldn’t figure it out. He appeared to have the desire to do it and he is very smart so I never questioned whether he understood or not.

He would still hide when he needed to poop and if I didn’t catch him hiding, he would then happily strut around with his stinky pull-up. As he turned 3 and beyond and entered preschool, I started to become concerned because we weren’t really making any headway. We tried just the pull-ups, just underwear and even both at times in an effort to appease his sense of being a “big boy”.

I began to realize that no matter what we did, it didn’t bother my son in the slightest to have a dirty or wet diaper on. I began to think of this in relation to his sensory issues. My son was such a sensory seeker. Why should a messy diaper bother him? It was just another “sensation” in his daily quest. Also, because he has a lot of auditory sensitivity, the toilet flush bothered him a lot. I really needed to figure out how to motivate him.

I brought his preschool teacher in on the potty training quest. We agreed that the pull-ups would no longer be used and he would wear underwear every day. We set up a reward system for him with stickers and pieces of candy. At the time, I never allowed sweets much so candy was a big deal. Immediately, he started urinating regularly on the toilet. The initial impact definitely had to do with his friends at school seeing him in the bathroom as a “big boy” and the consistent reward after he went. I also bought a potty book that simulated the toilet flushing. It wasn’t long before that sound didn’t bother him anymore. However, his control remained sporadic for a long while. I remember at over 3 1/2 when we were at my brother’s house, he went his pants 3 times in a few hours out of sheer excitement. This was after a couple of weeks of no accidents at all. This would happen consistently for a while in situations where he became overstimulated. It was very frustrating and I honestly wondered if we would ever get him past that point.

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