Friday, September 14, 2012

Not Sweating the Not So Small Stuff

I have two kids. My five year old, Moe, is autistic and non-verbal. He is smart, capable in his own way, but he is not what you would consider "high-functioning." My daughter, Jelly, is three. She is typically developing and quite precocious. She breezes through milestones with the greatest of ease, surpassing Moe in all those ways that people who track such things tend to care about.

Moe is not potty trained. Neither is Jelly - though she's almost there. As she approaches three and a half, she would be considered "late" by many of the milestone books. But honestly, I don't care all that much. I mean, sure I'd like to stop giving the college fund to the Huggies corporation and start giving it back to the local community (nail salon).

I've seen so many parents stress about getting their kids potty trained. They use elimination communication (EC) so their kids are practically born using the potty. The record, I believe, goes to one Oliver J. Lexington whose first cry had the distint sound of "potty" to expel his first meconium. 

Now, I'm not one of these parents that believes our kids will "tell us" when they are ready for each milestone. I weaned my kids when I wanted to, I set their bedtimes, and limit their screen time to no more than 30 minutes (margin of error +/- 3 hours) per day. But for potty training, I didn't see point in hurrying. Jelly's preschool doesn't have a potty requirement (I made sure of that when I signed her up) and I figured she would just start doing it when everyone else did.

So I didn't stress about it (even though stress is my natural state of being). I still have a five year old who shows very little sign of potty readiness. We do see occasional signs, and will sit him on the potty so he understands the concept. But Moe's communication challenges are significant, as would be the effort required to teach him this skill. And I'm just not sure it is worth it right now. He's got other things to learn, and this isn't something I feel like spending a lot of emotional energy on (his or mine) right now. The right time will come, and I hope I'll know it when I see it.

It was a similar thing with choosing a preschool. Finding the right school for Moe has been close to impossible. After two years at our public school district's autism preschool special day class, we determined that the program was not working for him. We searched to find a non-public school that would be a good fit. Now, three weeks into it we are questioning this program and considering returning to a home program. It is hard, and this decision matters.

When we chose Jelly's preschool, I had an idea of what I wanted: developmentally based, would accept two year olds, and didn't have a potty training requirement. I went to a Jewish nursery school when I was a kid, so I started there. I did a little research, looked at a couple of schools, and chose one. She has done great there, but honestly, I think she'd do great anywhere. Parents stress so much about this decision, and it just isn't worth it. I'm not saying it doesn't matter at all, am not trying to be dismissive, but the truth is, it's preschool. In the scheme of things, it isn't that big a deal.

It can be challenging parenting two completely different types of kids. I learn a lot from Jelly, see how things are "supposed" to be (according to the books, anyway). I never even understood half of the questions on Moe's assessments until I saw up close how a typical kid develops. She just absorbs the world and makes it a part of her, where we have to teach Moe everything in painstakingly slow detail. But sometimes having a kid with special needs helps me parent my typical kid too, by helping me focus on the important things, not sweating the small stuff, and maybe even not sweating some of the big stuff too.

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Jen also writes at her personal blog, Anybody Want A Peanut? You can follow her on Facebook.


  1. I find the same benefit from having Boo. Although my "typical" child is my oldest, having Boo has made me more laid back when it comes to Allie. But the reverse is also true because Allie did XYZ on time, it made me more aware that Boo hadn't accomplished the same skill.

  2. You are right to not sweat the small stuff.. it really doesn't matter! My son is autistic and non verbal and I only made a half hearted effort to potty train. In the end I waited until he was *developmentally* ready. Good luck with the school issues.