Potty Training a Sensory Child - Help!

My daughter is almost 3 and was diagnosed with being low sensory. I have begun potty training her as she can hold her bladder overnight and for long periods of time and does bring me a diaper/wipes to change her when she becomes soiled.

However, I have become very frustrated. She has no issues with actually being on the potty, she just has issues physically urinating and having a BM while on the potty, she literally screams and says "owwee" while she is in the process (does not do this with a diaper on). Even with hugs and words of encouragement/praise she is frightened. I am assuming this is because she is feeling the loss of her urine & BM from her body verses the benefits of a diaper.

My question is, how do I help her cope with this and overcome this fear? I also believe once she overcomes this fear, potty training will come very easily. I don't want this to be a negative experience for her and when she screams I know I need to back off and try again later.

Of course off the subject of potty training, everytime she doesn't like something she screams and says "owwee", so the person backs off, which of course, she has learned works. So any help or suggestions you could give me would be very much appreciated.


The SPD Help Line Answers...

I have to say, first, I am not sure what you mean by being "low sensory". Hmmm... that term doesn't really make sense to me. Could you clarify what you mean by this?

I can see why this issue is tough and confusing for you. It becomes confusing to me to, since she doesn't say it hurts when she has her diaper on. It does scare some kids when parts of them leave them and go into the toilet; this may be the case for her, but can be worked on (you will find some information about that in my newsletter I suggested). And, she is feeling the sensations she needs to it seems, since she is letting you know when she is wet/dirty. Also, given her saying "owwee" when she does something she doesn't like to do and it works, I wonder too about how this has influenced her in the potty training process.

So... what I would suggest is... First, read my SPD and Potty Training Newsletter to see if you see anything in there that might help or strikes a chord with you. I hope it helps.

Second, I would definitely talk to her OT about it. She what he/she has to say.

It is hard for me to "solve" this without knowing her. I am not really sure what is going on. What may help is if you tell me more about her sensory issues/symptoms, what treatment she is currently receiving (specifics about what she is doing in therapy), and whether she is saying "owwee" AS she is going or just the whole time she sits on the potty. Do YOU feel she is just saying this to get out of the task in this case, or does it appear she is feeling "negative" or "pained" by the process? Has she been checked "medically" for any reasons peeing and pooping may hurt? I don't feel, in my gut, there is anything wrong, since it doesn't hurt when she does it in her diaper, just curious though. Also, what have you tried besides diapers... pull ups, training underwear, being naked? What has/hasn't worked?

If you can give me some further information, maybe I can help more?

Hope to hear from you soon.

Take good care.
Michele Mitchell

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Dec 29, 2007
Potty Training Sensory Child Response
by: Anonymous

An OT had diagnosed our daughter with "Low Sensory Registration" She determined this by me completing a questionnaire about my daughter. The OT advised that she had problems defining her body within her space.

The reason why I had an OT in the first place was because she was twirling her hair and pulling it out while sleeping (I assumed to sooth herself as she sucked her thumb). Anyhow, I basically solved this with giving her a My Little Pony, the hair on this pony has been a nice distraction for whenever she needs it - much better than pulling out her hair - now she just asks for the pony.

So now that the hair problem is solved I could now begin potty training again (she is currently not seeing an OT at the moment), I guess I am looking for a way to solve the issue I previously addressed. And yes, I think she says "owwee" to get out of doing it as she does this for other things. I have now started to not let her do this for other things and give her a time out when she starts this - however I can't do this on the potty.

My fear is we really need to get her to let go of this fear of actually Urinating/having a BM - even if we backoff for now, I am still going to have to find a way to deal with this issue and get her to have the confidence that this is okay and it doesn't hurt.

I have also used pull-ups, underware/plastic pants (she likes wearing these, but not when they are wet). So I have already tried some of the tips in your newsletter, but I thought there might be something more specific that I could try with her to overcome her fear. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

Michele Mitchell comments...

I just re-read my potty training newsletter. Under the 20 tips, there are definitely things that may help her deal with the fear. I hope you can re-read that part as well. I would go with things that are relaxing and enjoyable for her while she is on the potty. I suggested several things regarding this. Relaxation and enjoyment will be key for her, so she doesn't feel so much fear and try to get out of it by saying "owwee".

Of course, there MAY also be some type of real pain there if she has SPD, but an OT would best assess where she is at with this. I wouldn't automatically assume she does not feel pain during various tasks... she can be fluctuating in sensory responses... over responsive sometimes, under responsive other times.

Oh, the low sensory registration makes sense, now that you said "registration". Thanks for clarifying that.

One last thing. It appears to me, that you may need some more OT time (and a more thorough assessment process than just a questionnaire... to better help you understand how her sensory registration issues specifically affect your daughter and some therapeutic techniques to help. Can you get her back into OT?? I really feel she (and you) could use more education and specific treatment ideas.

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