“NO! I cleeeeean.”
A certain barnyard odor hung in the air.
“Cleaned yourself with what exactly?”

I answered my own question as I neared Leonora’s closet and spotted the new decorative streaks of feces festooning amongst the polka dots and butterflies of her curtains.

“Oh, Owen…no…”

Potty training is difficult enough but if you are someone who takes everything literally, like a child on the spectrum does, then there can be some disastrous miscommunications when it comes to mastering the toilet. Comical yet laborious disasters.

Never would I guess that I would have to explain why we don’t plug up the toilet. Or why we don’t plug up the toilet with half a roll of tp. Or why rerolling the pre-origami-ed tissue might be considered gross by others. Or that wiping your hands on that same tissue roll to rid yourself of your bodily fluids might be a faux pas. Especially at a restaurant. Yikes.

“I. DO. MY. SELLLLLLLLF!!!”

He’s moved on from screaming “me-self” at me. Progress, folks.

Our latest struggles are getting him to slow down long enough to wash his hands thoroughly and not do so like he’s rinsing a plate or doing the robot dance under the water. Yet the more I tried to get through to him the more resistant he became. There had to be a reason for this new round of defiant behaviors but what? With every step forward there can be twenty leaps back. Autistic kids don’t follow the same learning path as others and at times it feels like being lost on a hike as you circle back around to the same fork yet again.

With every passing day his potty prowess was growing yet the arguments increased proportionally. I was mystified until one night I heard him crying in his sleep.

“No!…No, I says!…Stop!”
I held him, carried him to our bed, and he wrapped himself around me as tight as he could. I cleaned him, made another bottle of nut milk, and settled in next to him.

“What’s wrong, baby? Can you tell me?”
He glanced at my face, sighed, drank from his bottle, waited for a spell, and quietly with clear diction, “I no like school. I don’t like it. They hurt me.”

Not again. Why is it that kids with autism are bullied so much? How did I not see the signs? Of course! The unexplained scrapes and bruises weren’t just from him playing! He has trouble verbalizing emotions, asking for help, and a huge pain tolerance. Our poor baby!

What can I do to protect him short of pulling him from school? Is this really the reality for my kids and others like them?

Sadly, yes.

“Oh, Owen, I’m so sorry, baby!” my stomach dropped as I realized that this is why he had been acting out so much, “Thank you for telling me. We’re going to protect you and keep you safe, ok? I promise. Mama, is going to talk to your teachers tomorrow…”

It’s been two months, they say things have improved but not enough for him to like school again. It’s going to be an uphill battle to convince him now yet we keep trying. He’s generalized his negative feelings about school, globalized them, and all shining moments are now shadowed by the fears.

Oddly enough the toilet training has been a huge motivator in rebuilding his self-esteem because every time he poops in the potty I regail him with his special song:
“Owen is Awesome”

“Poopin’ on the potty,
Poopin’ on the potty,
O-wee is so awesooooome,
O-wee is so goooood!
Yaaaay, Owen!”

And repeat. Cookies afterwards help too.

He would never be considered an easy kid by many but he’s so very funny, mischievously clever, unexpectedly sweet, affectionate to a fault, and one-of-a-kind. Now I must go find him for an Owen-style “snug-snug” because if it’s good it’s worth shortening and repeating.

Plus, it’s verrrrrry quiet and I smell something…