The new thing, potty training, was not going well for my son, Sawyer. He had just begun working with in-home therapists and they wanted us to put him on the toilet every half hour. My wife didn’t think he was ready. I wanted to work on at least getting him desensitized to being in the bathroom and sitting down.
I work with children with disabilities at a mental health hospital, but Sawyer is my own son, and I worry that what we do will set him back or not progress as fast as he could. So Sawyer and I spend time in the bathroom even though it makes him cry.
I thought that maybe he needed a role model (yes, I had role modeled it for him the way only a dad can, but I am 6’4” and did not want to role model using the potty chair), I saw Sawyer’s doll, Buddy. This stuffed guy with his baby face and red coveralls was ignored by Sawyer and slated for Goodwill, but I thought maybe I could put him to use.
“Sawyer, come use your potty chair,” I called to Sawyer as I propped Sawyer’s Buddy doll on the potty chair. “See, Buddy’s a big boy.” Sawyer laughed to see his doll on the potty. I wanted to show Sawyer that the potty chair was perfectly harmless and fun. He liked Buddy being on there, but wouldn’t sit on the chair himself without crying.
Exhausted from teaching all day, I went back to work with him on the flashcards that Early Childhood had sent as homework. I used my teaching techniques to push Sawyer towards progress. I gave M&M as rewards and pair it with verbal praise, but I was, frankly, frustrated.
Then Sawyer got up and carried Buddy into the bathroom. And sure enough, Buddy had to pee-pee. Sawyer resisted even sitting on the potty, but Buddy started going on a fairly regular basis. With Sawyer’s prompting, Buddy tinkled as I poured water between his fiber-stuffed legs.
Night after night, Buddy began to do everything that Sawyer was supposed to do. Buddy went in the high chair to eat and signed for all done. Sawyer deferred the flashcards to Buddy. Sawyer, Buddy and I sat on the floor and went through the flashcards together. I asked Sawyer to pick the right card of the three choices laid out. Through gestures, Sawyer showed that he wanted Buddy to pick the right card. I had Buddy pick the right card and rewarded him with an M&M. Sawyer loved that and wanted Buddy to keep going. Sawyer even occasionally took a turn, but I began to wonder if Sawyer had as much chance of talking as Buddy did.
Then as Sawyer climbed down off my lap one night, he placed Buddy on my lap as a stand-in for him. This spark of imaginative play is what every parent of a child with Autism wants to see. His act of kindness filled me with hope because I see children with Autism and Asperger’s get labeled as “terminally obnoxious” because they cannot interpret other’s feelings.
Sawyer gave me Buddy so that I would have companionship -or maybe he was allowing Buddy to have some affection, either way it was an act of kindness. As I believe that giving is the key to happiness, this act of kindness was the first sign that allowed me to believe that everything would turn out all right for my son.
There would be other lessons that my son would need to teach me before I could stop worrying about his future or even his childhood. But I could finally believe that things were going to be okay after this incident in the bathroom. Sawyer had a tantrum about sitting on the potty. I looked at him. “Are you a naughty boy?” I asked, teasing him about his minor tantrum.
“No. I happy boy.”
When you have a nonverbal child that begins to talk, you have a lot of questions to ask him. He didn’t really answer my teasing question, but rather the question that was most often on my mind.
* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user-contributed heartwarming stories, that shine a light on the Autism experience.