I have to pee
7 July 2001
Scene One:

Late afternoon. A three year old boy runs from the threat of a diaper change. A mom catches him up in her arms and swings him around, making him giggle, then plops him on the table and pulls off his pants and then his diaper. As she does, this little boy with developmental issues, this child who has trouble communicating with words, comments: "I’m not so fond of wearing a diaper."


"When you’re ready to learn to use the potty, you won’t have to wear diapers anymore."

"I want to wear underpants."


"Are you ready to potty train?"


Well well well.

"Okay, tell you what. When you feel like you’re about to pee, tell Mommy or Daddy. Say ‘I have to pee.’" That’s too hard, isn’t it? Better simplify. "Or you can just say ‘Pee.’ That’s it. Just before you pee, tell Mommy or Daddy. Say ‘Pee.’ And we’ll know and bring you to the potty. Okay?"

Can he really do this? I understand that he wants to. Hell, I’d be annoyed having that puffy thing between my legs all the time too. And I have no doubt he’s sophisticated enough to get the whole toilet concept. He’s certainly seen me use it enough times. But this is a kid with sensory issues. He’s hypersensitive to some sensations, but underreactive to others. Can he be tuned in enough to his own body’s functions to recognize what it’s like to be about to pee and hold it in and let us know? That’s a tall order. You have to be responsive to the sensation, think of the necessary sequence, and implement it, including language, which isn’t always available.

Scene Two:

Early evening. Mom and son are playing in his room after dinner. Mom realizes the flower buds she’s growing from seeds need their evening soak.

"Damian, do you want to go out in the back yard? I have to water the plants, do you want to come?"

He gets up. She stops in the doorway. "Um, except I have to pee first. So I’ll go pee and then we can go out back."

He trots into the bathroom too. "I have to pee," he says.

Sounds like echolalia. Probably is echolalia. But...

"Okay, you can sit on the potty and pee."

He pulls his pants down, holds his shirt up so she can take his diaper off. Sits down gingerly. Cautiously. Looks baffled. Am I doing it right? Just sitting here? Is this it?

"Now I’m going to pee on the big potty. Watch how I do it."

Mom illustrates, with commentary, making sure the little boy watches closely. Yes, he knows the drill, but the time is now and the lesson needs to be that immediate.

The boy watches.

Mom comes back to kneel beside her son. Not expecting much, honestly. It seems inconceivable it could happen right here, right now. He starts to get up. She stops him. "Let’s sit here for a minute, see what happens. You can pee into the potty if you feel like peeing."

So he does.

Mommy calls Daddy in to share the excitement of this long-awaited moment. Mommy and Daddy hug their brilliant child, praise him, delight in his accomplishment. He’s pleased too, but soon runs outside to enjoy the spray of water and the cool night air.

He peed in the potty tonight. A major milestone in every child’s life. I’m still smiling.

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