Potty Training Problems

Many potty training techniques are focused on the discomfort a child feels in a wet diaper. But children who don't process tactile sensations well may be oblivious to this. The moisture and the cold may not register, and if the child's pain threshold is high, neither will the rashes that accompany it. While your child may want to comply with your wishes and be motivated to win big kid underwear or special privileges, she may genuinely not realize when she has an accident.

Compounding the problem is the fact that your child also may not feel the urge to use the toilet until it becomes urgent. Sensations from the bowel and the bladder have to be processed just like any other, and they may go astray just as well. If the sensations aren't strong enough to interrupt your child from play, they certainly won't be strong enough to awaken him from sleep. So again, toilet readiness may be hard to discern and hard to achieve.

Just because your child doesn't feel when his diaper's wet doesn't mean his genitals are without sensation. Your child may rely on masturbating when he needs strong input to his underreactive tactile sense. You may not feel comfortable allowing your son or daughter to engage in this activity, but be aware that it may be a legitimate sensory-seeking behavior.

If you believe that sensory integration is interfering with your child's ability to potty train, your best strategy may be to wait. Your child may improve in her ability to recognize the necessary signals, or she may grow in the maturity needed to see the importance of doing so. Although you may encounter pressure from teachers or family members to push your child through this transition, hang in there until your child is ready. The negative attention and frustration and anger that goes with unsuccessful potty training struggles will be bad for your child and bad for you.

Maybe you're determined to get your child using the toilet because of deadlines imposed by preschools or day cares. This can make it hard to wait for your child to be ready, but waiting is important. Consider looking around for a child-care provider that will allow your child to continue wearing diapers if that's what's right for her. Special education preschool through your school district should allow this, but even private facilities may bend the rules for children with special needs. Ask around.

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