It's the stuff of legends: nonverbal, nonambulatory, legally blind boy potty trains himself. At two and a half years old.
It comes up in almost every medical or therapeutic evaluation we have. I see them look at Collin - quizzical, sometimes impressed - and then at me. "How did you do it?" they ask.
It used to irk me. What part of potty training himself is confusing? But now I know what they're getting at. So, here is my secret. I call it the Maybe Method. It can be applied in all kinds of situations with a highly complicated kid and it's comprised of three steps:
1. Ask yourself a question about your child: Could he do this? Would he enjoy that? Is this what's bothering him?
2. Answer: "Maybe." This is the most crucial of the three steps. In order for it to work, you have to say it properly, even if you're only saying it to yourself. It's like a spell that doesn't work with the wrong inflection. Do NOT put the emphasis on the first syllable. That's like hanging back guardedly and folding your arms. Lean your weight on that second syllable, propelling yourself forward into possibility.
3. Finally, ask "How can I find out?" You can brainstorm this one with therapists or family members or anyone who might know your child well. Or, you could just go out on a limb with your own wild hunch.
Here's how the method played out with Collin's potty training:
1. Collin had a major freak out on a car trip when he was around 2 years old; when we got home and pulled him out of his carseat, he promptly had a huge dirty diaper. So I asked myself: Is Collin aware of his bodily functions? Could he possibly use a potty?
2. I answered: MayBE...
3. I started giving him chances. Potty training was so far off my radar that we had nothing on hand to use, so I just had to kind of hold him over the toilet. He pooped the very first time.
Now, it took months to tweak things and figure out cues. I had to apply and reapply the Maybe Method. But it was that first maybe that set things in motion.
Of course, numerous times I have said maybe, did what I could to find out, and learned that the answer was Not yet. Sometimes that is the answer many times in a row. Is that disappointing? Sure. But maybe is more about providing an opportunity than it is expecting a certain outcome, so more often it makes me feel proud of both of us for trying something.
I recently listened to this episode of Invisibilia, which takes a critical and surprising look at the profound effect expectations can have on the performance of another person. Studies cited in the show indicate that our very thoughts about others dramatically affect their capabilities.
It was a sobering thought to me. Yes, keeping an open mind about Collin has yielded wonderful results in some cases, as with the potty training. But in what ways am I limiting Collin by assuming he can't do something? I don't think I'm going to believe him into doing something he's truly incapable of doing, but are there ways in which I could better empower Collin just by thinking of him differently?