Charlie is three and a half now, and most of her little peers at kindy are independently toileting. 

Charlie is non-mobile and non-verbal, so I had absolutely no idea how to begin this journey for her, or whether it would even be possible. 

She is, however, the youngest of four, so we’ve been down this road before and come out unscathed. 

I was completely convinced that we should at least give it a go. 

I went to the shops and bought terrycloth knickers - absorbent enough for a tiny accident but still not a nappy - dragged out the old pink plastic potty and started to make a plan.

Since Charlie is unable to tell us when she needs to go, I decided that a routine-based approach would be best. 

We decided that we’d put her ‘on the pot’ as soon as she woke up, directly after each meal and once before bed. 

The only problem was that she absolutely despised sitting on it. 

She’d tense up and cry, both fairly counterproductive in my estimation. 

Plan B, then.

Next cab off the rank was to go straight to the big toilet.

I bought two different kinds of ‘toilet helper’ – one with steps and hand-grips that sits above the toilet seat, and one small cushioned ‘inner ring’ that sits inside the adult seat.

The ‘step’ version was a disaster. 

It’s made of rigid plastic and is designed for children who can independently climb on and off of it. 

It’s also quite wobbly and Charlie just didn’t feel stable on it, even with the handles. 

We tried the other one and it worked like a charm! 

I should mention here that the potty and the ‘step’ chair cost a total of about $50 compared to $5 for the cushioned insert – I wish I’d bought that first! 

So far we had achieved happiness on the toilet – a great start – but still no action. 

This is when I realised that Charlie had never really seen what’s supposed to happen. 

My older three children, all highly mobile as toddlers, would often follow me into the bathroom and continue their conversation as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening. 

In fact, they’d seek me out almost every time I slipped off to go the loo (it’s like they have some kind of anti-parental-privacy radar). 

By the time we introduced the idea of toileting to them, they already had a pretty good idea of what went on in there. 

It had never occurred to me to willingly take Charlie to the toilet with me, but of course that’s what we had to do. 

Parenting is certainly not the most dignified profession.

The upshot of all of this was that Charlie began to take an interest in the goings-on of the toilet and bathroom areas. 

We still don’t know how much she takes in or understands, but there must be some cognition going on because we soon had regularly productive toilet trips! 

We were so proud the first few times she pooed on the loo that I think we frightened her with our celebrations!

Toilet training is a huge commitment for parents, and it’s been even more so with Charlie. 

It’s difficult to stick to our toilet timetable every day, especially when we’re balancing the needs of other children and we can’t always be at home, within arm’s reach of the toilet. 

Public toilets can be really tricky, and I haven’t quite worked my way up to carrying around her little seat yet.

With starting at her new preschool recently and dropping one of her kindy days to accommodate it, Charlie’s routine has become a bit lax and we’ve had a few setbacks. 

We’re getting less action on the loo and more in bed at night, which had previously all but ceased. 

We’ve moved from the ‘knickers’ to ‘pull-up’ nappies because I just couldn’t face the extra washing and more. 

I really need to pull my socks up and get back into it. 

As Charlie gets older and starts spending more time away from me, I’m going to have to enlist the support of teachers and other caregivers as well, and it still seems a big daunting task even for me so I’m not sure how that’s going to go.

We really don’t want to just ‘accept’ that Charlie will be reliant on nappies far into the future, though, so it’s come to this: it’s time to stop complaining and worrying and just do it. 

We’re not there yet, so I definitely don’t have all the answers, but the best advice I can give to other parents facing these questions with their special-needs children is to simply start somewhere

Even if you just take your child to the toilet with you and show them what you eventually want them to do. 

Any idea deserves a shot, and if you overthink it you’ll never do any of it because it’s all just so damned huge. 

Like us, you probably won’t get it right at the beginning, but at least you’ll be on the road to success – even if it’s a long one.

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