We're all party poopers at our house. In the most literal sense. I debated a bit about posting on this subject because even though I share a lot of our world, some of it will always, has to, remain private. And also because I hope that by sharing a bit of our world it will, in some small way, influence how others think about people with autism. And the poop thing? Well, yes, it's there for many of us. But is that really what I want to say about autism? About Oliver? In the scheme of things it just isn't that important. Except while you are going through it. Then, if you let it, it can become all-important.
We've been working on the toileting thing since Oliver was three with moderate success. I mean, for over two years now Oliver has known what to do but would not -- WOULD NOT -- do it independently. Then, this past summer, he suddenly would not even do what needed to be done when prompted. Some might have concluded that we'd had a "regression" -- but knowing Oliver, I figured out pretty quickly that it was something else entirely and I was, for awhile helpless, as a dynamic of struggle emerged between the two of us that eventually organized most of our day. That was mistake #1. The struggle, in turn, made life rather stressful for all of us and toileting suddenly found it's way to the top of the priority list. Mistake #2.
At the height of the toilet war I realized that Oliver and I were locked in a battle of wills. I knew it and he knew it and since we are from the same stubborn stock we found it impossible to extricate ourselves. Indeed, the hardest part was realizing that I had to be the adult in the situation; realizing that I had to yield. I try very hard to find ways throughout the day to give Oliver control over whatever makes sense -- to let him be independent as much as possible. But my first impulse is to make choices for him and to prompt him to do what I want him to do. It's wrong. I know it and yet too often find myself on auto-pilot. And so it was that Oliver made his stand over the toilet. After all, it is the one thing in life that he pretty much totally controls.
And so I set out to change things between us, to eliminate the struggle for control. And it worked. The first day. I told Oliver that it was up to him. He could use the toilet. Or not. Either one was OK with me. And I could only say that after truly convincing myself that it was so. And for a set period of time each day I planned to just concentrate on playing together within close proximity to the bathroom. I promised myself that I wasn't going to try to get anything from him. No pushing for language or to take turns or even for him to interact with me. I was just going to spend time with him and try to have fun. I was going to enjoy myself. And a remarkable thing happened: We enjoyed ourselves together. We spent some time running our fingers across the carpet and watching how the fibers moved. I was tired and lazy so after a minute or so it became strangely meditative. Then we moved to the bathtub and I didn't say "No" when Oliver splashed some water at me. Instead I looked surprised and said: "I'm all wet!" And do you know what Oliver did? He came over, peered at my face and said:"You're all wet!" Then gleefully repeated it a few times until I was more than a little wet, each time saying those same beautiful words that came of his own volition. That alone was worth the price.
Sometime during all this I was aware that Oliver was in the process of making a decision. A few times he looked at or went close to the toilet, then slammed the lid down and turned away. But eventually, he just worked it all out for himself and, well, it all worked out.
That was about ten days ago and, although Oliver still needs me to encourage him to use the toilet, we haven't had a problem since. I adjusted my attitude, Oliver adjusted his response and together we are finding our way down this bumpy path. But what I find so instructive about this whole experience was that it secured for me the understanding that so much of what Oliver can do, or does, is wrapped up in his relationship with the people who are most important in his world. It isn't just about the autism. It is about me and about Nik and everyone else who loves Oliver.
In a strange way this whole thing taught me a lesson that I've learned many times over, a lesson that I will probably keep learning: Mothering Oliver isn't just about getting him to do what I want him to do; it is about giving him the ability to decide what should be done -- two very different things. And in a way I'm grateful for this lesson because every day now, for the past ten days, for at least an hour, Oliver and I -- and sometimes Sam -- have had a little party of sorts. And we wouldn't have had that if I hadn't been willing to yield a little bit and let Oliver lead the parade.