To a child, poo can be a magical substance. In a world where you feel you can control almost nothing, this one thing is totally in your control. When I asked the first therapist about the likelihood that my severely autistic son would ever be potty-trained, I remember her eyes looked away past me and her expression became guarded. “It’s possible,” she said almost mechanically, “with some eventually.” But I saw the pain in her eyes, what she didn’t want to say. I smiled and assured her it didn’t matter, I would love him just the same.
At the Autism Institute, when the question came up, there was a warning. “You don’t want to make an issue of it. Trying to force it is dangerous.” I took the warning seriously but sadly my ex-husband never understood. The aides working with my son compounded the problem, they could not hide their disgusted reactions and the more they reacted the bigger the problem got.
It’s hard to explain the lesson I learned but it is one of the most important too. To prove my love to my children, I had to learn to accept what is means to make poo. It represents a special kind of control and a level of safety. There are reasons why some people can only go in certain situations or places. Anxiety, fear and a lack of privacy can get in the way. One son didn’t go for a whole week at his father’s, but the moment he came home to me, he let go, smiling such relief.
Another time he made a big mess. I could see him watching me when I saw it. There was even some on his face. But when I looked at the mess and thought about how glad I was that he was comfortable enough to go, how glad I was that he was alive and had survived that week at his father’s, all I could do was smile and hug him, poo and all. He looked so surprised and he never made a mess like that again. I had finally passed his test.
I can’t exactly say I love poo, but I do love what it represents. It’s about self-control and safety, privacy and dignity, comfort and acceptance. It’s the thing the “professionals” seem to have the hardest time talking about, but poo happens and I thank God it does.