I know a fourteen year old boy who is funny and lovable. He plays soccer and video games. He loves game shows, animated movies, bridges, nature and his family. He dislikes loud noises (especially fireworks), large crowds and changes to his schedule. He loves to explore new places (through the safety of the family mini van) and enjoys leisurely car rides with his mother. He is smart. He can name every exit between my house and my in-laws and knows the name of every bridge in the county! He has a smile that will light up the room and melt your heart. He is void of any sensors and simply says what is on his mind. And as you can imagine this often gets him into trouble. He has one speed which is best described as…supercharged. He has an incredible older brother who is both patient and kind and two loving parents who work hard to help him navigate the world. He is extraordinary! I love him. He is my nephew. His name is Derrick. He is on the autism spectrum.
Statistics show that at least someone you know has autism or is on the autistic spectrum. It might be a neighbor or a friend, a classmate or a family member or a little boy or girl you occasionally see at church. And chances are, at first glance, you don’t even know he or she has autism.
I want my daughter to grow up celebrating and accepting differences. So what’s the best way to help your preschooler understand family members and friends who are extra sensitive because their brains interpret things differently? In our house we use picture books to introduce our daughter to new topics. Picture books are a terrific way to initiate conversations and to build awareness and I am always on the lookout for new titles.
I was recently sent the most amazing picture book, “Stewie Boom! and Princess Penelope: Handprints, Snowflakes and Play-dates,” a new book by author Christine Bronstein with illustrations by Karen L. Young. In the book the teacher explains that like snowflakes and handprints, “No two minds are the same.” Our brains are one-of-a-kind and that is what makes us unique. After the teacher encourages the class to play with someone new, Penelope gets to know Eric who is “on the spectrum.” Eric doesn’t like loud noises so before he comes over for a play-date, Penelope and her brothers practice being quiet and flexible. They also learn how to read body language with their eyes as a way to understand how someone is feeling.
My daughter and I enjoyed reading the book together. The illustrations are colorful and inviting and the message of inclusion is an important lesson for all ages. The author reminds us, “It’s very important to play with people who may seem different at first because they can teach us new ways of looking at the world.” In the back of the book there are helpful tips for special need families as well as tips to welcome special needs families to a play-date. I really liked the friendship goal chart along with the friendship award as they are useful tools to educate children about inclusion.
People, like snowflakes and hand-prints, are individual and unique. And the way our brains interpret the world is just as distinctive. By embracing neuro-diversity and teaching our children techniques to help everyone feel comfortable and accepted; we can provide our children with a gift that will last a lifetime!
Potty training is one of the biggest events in early childhood and everyone appears to have an opinion. There are countless books written on the topic and the Internet is flooded with tips. Although I found the advice useful, every child is different and my daughter’s potty training journey didn’t replicate any of the plans I read online. Her journey from diapers to underwear was individualized and unique, just like her!
Now I have to confess something…our potty training adventure wasn’t exactly as quick as the title of this article implies. In fact, as I browse through old pictures I realize I have been doing things to prepare for this day for an entire year!
Although my parents never mentioned it I could tell they were wondering if I was ever going to potty train my daughter. After all I was potty trained before the age of three and in a little over a month my daughter will be three and a half! I began to feel like I was a bad mommy since all of my daughter’s friends were fully potty trained; many for almost a year now! With some, the parents were forced to speed up the process because of daycare. Some of her friends showed signs of readiness and potty trained at an early age while others had baby siblings on the way and potty training their oldest before a baby was added to the family just made sense.
Since I spend most of the time at home with my daughter and she won’t start preschool for another four months, we had plenty of time to spend on potty training. I carefully observed her for readiness signs and created a potty friendly environment for her to learn in. I believe in child centered learning but there are a lot of things that need to be in place for success. My daughter wouldn’t be potty trained without purposeful intent by me, her teacher. Below I describe the steps I took on our “tear free” potty training journey.
Modeling- When my daughter was very young I took her into the bathroom with me. Through watching me she learned the steps: sitting on the potty, wiping with toilet paper, flushing and washing hands. Although at eighteen months she wasn’t ready to abandon her diapers just yet, she often mimicked me by grabbing a fist full of toilet paper and pretending to wipe herself while she was fully clothed! As Lillian got older, many of her friends were toilet training and during play dates she saw her friends go potty. Through modeling, especially by her peers, Lillian showed more interest in going potty.
Picture Book- We began reading books about going potty shortly after my daughter turned two years of age. A friend gave us the book, “A Potty for Me!” by Karen Katz and it became an instant favorite. Around this time my daughter went through a Daniel Tiger phase and she fell in love with the “Daniel Goes to the Potty” book that comes with a button that makes a flushing sound. The reader is encouraged to press the flush button each time Daniel Tiger uses the potty. The book follows the same storyline and includes the catchy “potty song” that appears in the Daniel Tiger episode “Daniel Goes to the Potty.” “Everyone Poops” is a classic by Taro Gomi and we enjoyed learning about different kinds of animals and the various ways they go to the bathroom.
Selecting a Potty- Lillian helped pick out a little Minnie Mouse potty at the store and both sets of grandparents bought matching ones for their homes. This consistency proved to be helpful because Lillian didn’t regress when she spent the day or night with her grandparents. At first she sat on her potty but after awhile she occasionally went on the potty. She role played by having her stuffed animals use her potty. Her little potty is located in our master bathroom and that is where it has stayed throughout the entire process. Even though Lillian had her own little potty she sat on the big potty sometimes. In fact she loved trying out potties in public places and at family and friends homes. We never had a problem using bathrooms in public places because Lillian learned early on that there are potties everywhere!
Motivation Chart and Rewards- A few months after Lillian turned three I introduced a sticker chart for extra motivation. I waited until the holidays were over and we were back to a “normal” schedule with no out of town trips planned or any other unusual distractions. But the chart I selected simply wasn’t working. The goals on the chart were too ambitious for her and she wasn’t earning any stickers. I looked online and found a Paw Patrol Potty Chart! Click on this link to download the chart. paw-patrol-potty-training
Lillian is really into Paw Patrol and the tasks on the chart were attainable for a beginner. (Told an adult I needed to go, Pulled down my pants, Sat on the potty, Went in the potty, Washed my hands) After she filled an entire chart with stickers she got a small Paw Patrol toy. The chart followed her to her grandparents house and we made sure to add stickers if she went potty while we were away from home. When she began to show success and filled up the chart at a faster pace I changed the categories on the chart to include two columns for “Went on the potty” and then added a column for “Went poop on the potty” and “Staying dry all day.” This gradual release of increased expectation proved to be very successful.
Big Girl Underwear- I bought Lillian Minnie Mouse underwear when she was two years old. She showed no interest in wearing them. One day she spied some Paw Patrol underwear at Target and she got so excited I bought them. But she still refused to wear underwear. I thought starting her in pull ups before underwear would be successful but she showed little interest in wearing pull ups (even though they are very similar to diapers.) So to my surprise we potty trained in a diaper. She would pull down her pants, rip off her diaper and pee in the potty, so I simply went with it. At first it required suggestions from me but soon after she was running to the bathroom and going independently. On Easter Monday I asked her if she wanted to wear big girl underwear and she said yes! She stayed dry all day and after that she never wore diapers again!
My daughter’s potty training story reminds me that sometimes all it takes is time, motivation and a little bit of encouragement for something to happen. Forcing someone to do something before they are truly ready causes tears and frustration for everyone involved. Learning is a process and everyone learns at his/her own pace, following a timeframe that often doesn’t match our own expectations.