Toilet Training

March 31, 2017
by Editorial Team

Toilet Training with Autism

from a CEA parent

My son did not toilet train completely until he was in elementary school. Before he was diagnosed with autism, we read the parenting books written for typical kids. I listened to the other parents in Early Childhood Family Education discuss what they were doing for toilet training and learned that the average age to toilet train was four. Ok, I thought, we have time.

Then our son was diagnosed with autism. We still kept up with the toilet training methods that had been recommended. We dutifully sat him on the toilet – first a little portable potty, then the big toilet with a stool under his feet. We sat and looked at picture books and photo albums, waiting for something to happen and for him to make the connection when it did. When there was finally some “movement,” he looked stricken and immediately cried. He didn’t want to do that again anytime soon, no matter how many times we read Everyone Poops.

We went to a behaviorist. Our son was not conversational at that point, but he seemed to “get it” as the man helped him to understand there was nothing to be afraid of when going to the bathroom. His anxiety seemed to lift after a series of appointments.

And although I had read that many kids with autism take longer to toilet train, all the other kids with  in his school program seemed to have the process down, and were independently using the toilet by the end of preschool while he still needed assistance. Discouraged by our own son’s difficulties, but determined to help him, we read Maria Wheeler’s book Toilet Training for Individuals With Autism Or Other Developmental Issues, which was helpful to collect information geared to a child with autism. We implemented many of her suggestions, including staying on a schedule and how to use rewards effectively.

We talked to his pediatrician. Since our son tended to constipation, we tried Miralax. When that didn’t help, we tried Milk of Magnesia, which helped a little bit, but not enough to make sitting on the toilet a success.

Eventually, he did start to get the idea of urinating in the toilet, but only if he was sitting down. It took a couple of years before he would try standing. And still no luck with a bowel movement in the toilet. 

And then we went to Anne Dudley’s toilet training class. Although the book had been helpful, it was even more helpful to hear information, methods, and encouragement in person from a teacher who “got it.” She was articulate and straightforward, and patiently answered questions from participants, including my own concerns. There was solidarity being in a group of other parents who were working on the same thing with their children. It helped my motivation and helped me persevere.

It gave me the renewed energy to take the next proactive steps. Although true that many kids with autism simply take longer to master going to the bathroom independently (so that much patience with the process is needed), sometimes there are also extra issues. Although we had already been to the doctor to address our concerns, the seminar gave me the push to consult a gastroenterologist for more problem-solving. It led to a hospital test and medical aid to help “clean him out,” and then eventually to probiotics, which is what finally helped his body to function “correctly” so that he could do his business.

Not everyone’s issues in the class were like ours and some had younger children who were quite close to success – their parents were just looking for that last bit of help to get the job done. As always, there is a lot of variety in the autism diagnosis, so each parent’s child was at a different point in the journey of toilet training. Sometimes our kids need a little extra help to learn, and as parents we need a little extra help to know how to teach them, even with a natural body process. Learning information from a trusted expert and with a community of parents helped all of us to take the best next steps for our child.

Join us for our next Toilet Training class on April 18 and access Anne Dudley’s tried and true tips!

emerging readers

March 17, 2017
by JeanneLovesBooks

Emerging Readers – March

Snowmen at Night by Caralyn Buehner

We haven’t had much snow this winter in Minnesota, so we need a book about snowmen. This story begins when a small child notices a snowman outside who changed overnight. It was drooping on one side, it’s hat had slipped, “He looked a fright.” What happened to the snowman overnight? Buchner tells a wonderful story, in short rhyming sentences, about the fun time the snowman had with other snowmen after the child and the world went to sleep.

Buchner shows all the winter activities that children love through delightful illustrations. The snowmen gather for skating, snowball fights, hot chocolate in the park, and they go sledding down a fabulous hill. They even make snowmen angels in the snow in a double page spread that is sure to bring smiles and giggles.

The illustrations show a lot of emotion which can be fun to notice and talk about. Would you be really happy or maybe a little scared going down a BIG snow hill on a toboggan?

As a bonus treat, the author reminds us that there are three hidden shapes (a rabbit, a cat and a Santa face) in the illustrations. It is a treasure hunt to look for them together.

emerging readers

Spot’s Toys Soft Book by Eric Hill

This book is the kind of baby book that can be very soothing as well as visually engaging. The book is composed of soft fabric pages some of which have crinkle paper inside. Crinkle paper makes a crackling sound when touched. This sound can have a very soothing effect for some kids. It may be that it is a compelling distraction, and it is not clear that it works for all infants, but it is a wonderful addition to strategies for soothing a crying baby.

This particular book is also a good pick as it has bright colors and large singular images on each page that have different textures. It also has limited, larger text on each page. Finally, it has plastic corners on the front corners for teething and plastic rings for grabbing.

Fun with reading

  • Talk about how to build a snowman – The first page shows a boy rolling two big snow balls; what are they for? What do the illustrations show for their noses, eyes and mouths?
  • Talk about the emotion on their faces – See if your child can show that emotion on his/her face.
  • Act out new words like drooping.- At the beginning and end the snowman is shown with his shoulder drooping. Also, the snowmen are described as tuckered out. It’s fun and helps vocabulary development to act out these words.
  • Crinkle paper can be purchased at some local gift stores that have baby/child sections as a single piece covered in colorful soft fabric. The individual sheets are great to keep in diaper bags etc.
  • Use the simple language and bright colors to engage your child in labeling and learning new words. Let them name each color, offer up other things that are “red,” etc.

February 21, 2017
by Margaret
1 Comment

Growing a Foodie, Part 4

It’s time to continue with our top eight tips for guiding your child through their Eating Adventures. Refresh yourself on the first four here!

5)  Is it a motor planning thing?

Sometimes physical barriers keep your child stuck in a food avoidance pattern. Our son was not wild about meat, partly because he had trouble chewing it. As he got used to using his back teeth to chew (with the help of one of those sensory chews his occupational therapist provided), he was able to chew the meat better and found he liked it. He needs his protein, and meat is his main source. So discover if physical limitations are behind your child’s refusal to eat certain foods.

6)  Expected behaviors apply to mealtime too

Trying new foods and appropriate mealtime behavior are part of the expected behaviors we have for our son, and we try to reinforce this through explanations of what those behaviors are. These explanations are like a verbal Social Story in our house. You could always write your own Social Stories for each of the issues your child may be facing at mealtimes, whether is is trying a new food or staying at the table. Parents sometimes think eating should be an intuitive process, but I have found my son needs as much explanation, modeling and reinforcement with eating as he does in other challenging areas of his life.

7)  Experts can help

It’s worth considering a multi-vitamin to make sure your child is getting the vitamins and minerals she needs. Consult with your doctor if you are worried about your child’s nutrition. Our doctor was able to reassure us that our son’s growth chart was just fine, even with his limited diet. Try an occupational therapist if you have concerns about your child’s aversion to certain textures and tastes. And there are several centers that offer food clinics, where they specifically focus on addressing issues that interfere with eating. (See comments section for other local feeding clinics.)

8)  I’m too tired

There is one more reason why it can take so long to get my son to eat new foods: sometimes I just don’t have the energy to make the effort. Or the energy I have may need to go toward another issue that he is dealing with. I’ve learned that’s okay. If I’m stressing about finding foods for him, it doesn’t help. I love food and family dinners, so ultimately I want to make mealtime enjoyable, for all of us.

Taking it slow and steady helped keep me and my son relaxed during his process of learning to eat. I never thought curried lentils would be a standard meal in our house. But through helping our son try new foods, he has found a surprising favorite, and we did too!

This wasn’t enough, right? Discover the rest of Margaret’s tips and more at Food and Autism on February 28! more info>>

Read Part 1, Part 2 & Part 3 to discover all of Margaret’s great tips!

February 7, 2017
by Margaret

Growing a Foodie, Part 3

Last time I shared some dinner table techniques I use to get my son to try new foods. Check them out here and here. But I want to move beyond the dinner table and share some of the things I learned while teaching my son to expand beyond a food jag or to let go of some of his pickiness. Over all, I found I had to adjust my ways with food just like him. As with everything, we are in this together!

1) Patience and empathy

Trying to get your child to eat a variety of foods can take a long, long time. This is a process and focusing on that instead of on the result will help you take the presssure off – yourself and your child.

When taking the first steps on this road, try to put yourself in your child’s place. I am somewhat adventurous with food, but I also have some issues. It’s those issues, that have allowed me to relate to my son’s. I have food jags too. I eat my Rice Chex every morning, without fail. I have a major sensory issue as well- crunching an onion in my mouth freaks me out. And if I’m stressed, I don’t reach for a carrot, I look for chocolate. When I keep all this in mind, I am much more patient with my son’s eating habits. And that patience and understanding allows me to invite change rather than force it.

2)  Go Slow

The best thing I learned from the gluten free/casein free diet had nothing to do with that diet. When my son was a toddler, his go-to foods were grapes and Cheerios. We started the gf/cf diet, so the Cheerios had to go. However, we weren’t one of those families who were able to go cold turkey onto the diet. I envied those who could pull that off.

We could eliminate foods only as we found a substitute that our son liked to eat. It took almost a year before we found alternatives that worked. It worked for our family to take it slow because it set a pattern of actively looking for foods that our son would try, no matter how long it took to find an acceptable food. The gf/cf diet may not be for your child, but you can still try a slow and steady approach to finding new, acceptable foods.

3)  Status quo is OK sometimes

Once we found foods our son liked that met his basic nutritional needs, he stuck with those for years. Sometimes it was literally five to 10 food that he would eat. I wasn’t always actively addressing this issue of limited foods, because I noticed that if he had the same food at mealtimes, he was able to focus on meeting expectations at the table. He didn’t have anxiety over the food, so we can work on other, more social, goals. Like how to use his utensils, or to clean up afterwards, or to converse with us at the table. It was too hard for him to try to master those skills while also trying new foods. On the plus side, his limited diet also cut down on unhealthy food choices. Although there wasn’t variety, it was all relatively healthy food. I felt comforted by this, which increased my patience with the process.

4)  Don’t you love schedules?

One thing that helped my son’s anxiety, when I started introducing some variety into the lunch he brought to school, was making a schedule so he would know what food he would be eating that day. Eventually, we fell back on consistent favorites for lunch and saved the variety for meals at home. And the only reason he was able to try some different foods when he went away to camp is because they provided a meal schedule beforehand that I could go over with him before he went to camp. He knew what to expect so it was okay.

I hope these first four strategies will help you navigate this food journey with your child. Taking a step back, reminding yourself of the process and applying what you know works for your child in other settings will keep you on track and happily pursuing the next food adventure.

Next, I will continue with these top eight tips for guiding your child through their Eating Adventures. Discover the final four here!

Learn even more strategies for growing a foodie at our upcoming class on February 28!

Read Part 1Part 2 and Part 4 of “Growing a Foodie.”

January 31, 2017
by Margaret

Growing a Foodie, Part 2

Last week I started us off on my journey through expanding my son’s food choices. Here are the next four tips in my top seven Eating Adventures strategies. Refresh yourself on the first three here!

4)  Try again . . . and again . . . and again . . . 

Keep this in mind – it takes 10 tries before our brains decide whether we truly like a food or not. So even if your child refuses the food, it is worth trying again. If our son is skeptical about trying something new, we just have him eat one or two pieces and wait until the next meal to try again. However, if the first piece makes him gag, then we know he’s not ready for it to be introduced over and over. We put it on our “try again in six months” list.

5)  The first step is just one bite

So this is great advice, but how do you even get your child to take that first bite? Not always easily, I’ll admit. Putting one piece on his small plate reduces his anxiety since he can literally see it will be just one bite. When we try again, I might try two pieces. Or I might up it to six pieces on the plate, depending on his reaction to that first bite.

When he protests, I will tell him he only has to eat three pieces. In this moment, he thinks he has ‘won.’ Or I remind him to close his eyes since that seems to help him take a bite. Sometimes the way a food looks – so new, so strange – is the barrier he needs to move beyond. We have made it a routine to put new foods in front of him, so that it’s an everyday thing.  If you can make the unknown, predictable, that is half the battle.

6)  Exposure can be a first step

There are some preferred foods that our son absolutely will not try in another form. One is his adored rice pasta. I would love it if he could try plain old rice, but I guess all those little grains are just too weird for him. In this case it is helping him to see us eat rice. I offer it to him each time we eat it. He says “no” and that’s okay; sometimes he needs to feel like he has some control over the situation. I just say, “maybe next time,” which he actually processes as a possibility over time. The fact that rice is present on the table at least exposes him to it as a real food that he may eat someday. Offering a bite each time we eat it lets him know, concretely, that it is also for him, not just for us.

7)  Dessert is not a weapon, it is our friend

When I was a kid, without fail, along with my sandwich and a piece of fruit, I always had cookies in my brown bag lunch at school. We also always had dessert after dinner, whether it was fruit or Hostess Ho Ho’s. I learned that because dessert was always a part of the meal, at some point I would get something fun like chocolate or cake. I also learned that it’s okay to have sweet treats at certain times, not all the time. My husband’s mom was a great baker so he has a certain expectation of sweet treats on a regular basis as well. Consequently, dessert is always an option in our house.

We never offer, or take away, dessert (or any other favorite food) depending on whether our son tries the new food or not because we also know this would ratchet up his anxiety, not reduce it. Since my son responds so well to verbal praise (heck, I respond well to verbal praise), we just give appropriate praise when he does try a new food, even if it’s just one bite. If he is not able to take a bite, we always say, “maybe next time” and nonchalantly go on with the meal. The meal stays calm, and dessert is just dessert then, not a big deal.

These are all the dinner-table specific techniques we learned on our Eating Adventures with our son. But the journey doesn’t stop there. We’ve learned a few more things that have also helped the eating process in our home. I will go beyond the dinner table in my next posts.

Join us on February 28 for a class on this topic. more >>

Missed it? Read Growing a Foodie, Part 1

Go beyond the dinner table in Part 3 and Part 4

January 24, 2017
by Margaret

Growing a Foodie

My son loves grapes. He discovered grapes quite young, and they quickly became his favorite food. At first I was happy we found a healthy choice for his snacks that he liked so much. But then the “grape emergencies” started. Intense reactions spilled over when he discovered there were no grapes in the house. That’s when I realized that eating, too, wasn’t going to be simple for my son with autism.

My son is a very picky eater but through our consistent attempts to get him to eat the unknown, he is slowly adding to his diet. He isn’t a foodie, yet, but he steadily tries a variety of food and adds to his repertoire. Here are three things we learned on his Eating Adventures journey. Check in next week for four more!

1) Same thing, different form

The tricky part is actually getting our son to try a new food. We used some methods I learned from a seminar given by Kay Toomey, PhD, a pediatric psychologist who works with kids who don’t eat. If they won’t try a different food, she said, try a favorite food in a different form. So we started just by switching from green grapes to red grapes and back again. Although my son was upset and anxious about the switch, he was motivated because he loved grapes. We then took turns buying each color, in order to not get into the “green” pattern again. In fact, these days he prefers red. Once he mastered this, we built on this fruit preference and began to introduce different types of fruit.

2) Modifications and accommodations apply to food too

Toomey also talked about making it easy for our kids to try new foods. When our son was little, he was literally unable to bite into a whole apple. Also, he really disliked the apple’s skin. So we peeled it and cut it up into small pieces. This way he was able to happily eat an entire apple. After a while, we introduced variety by leaving the skin on. When he was older, we cut the apple into wedges, since by then we knew he would just take a bite of the wedge instead of trying to put the whole thing in his mouth.

For pears, my son wouldn’t touch the cut up fruit because it was “wetter” than an apple. So we gave him a fork, and he ate the whole thing. We look for the modifications that will make it easier for him to at least try the new food. As you accommodate your child’s deficits in other areas of life, the same ideas can be applied at the dinner table.

3) The small plate as the island of safe food

We’ve been having some great success lately with another tip I learned from Toomey’s seminar, which is to put the new food you want your child to try on a separate small plate on the table. We also always make sure he has a preferred food to eat at each meal, which is on his main plate.

We’ve mostly tried to introduce vegetables using the small plate technique. I first tried things that made sense with his preferences – cut up cucumber was cold like a grape, and he could crunch it like an apple. So that worked great. He was very skeptical of the pieces of lettuce we put out, but I kept the dressing off, and let him eat the pieces with his fingers. After a few times, we had him use a fork. Then the next time, we gave him some lettuce with dressing on it, which was a big deal because in his mind, food should not have anything extra on it. But he was used to the routine of trying the food on his small plate, so he ate it. It’s not a preferred food, but he will regularly eat lettuce now.

These three techniques are a great starting point for expanding the foods your child will eat. Starting small, establishing comfort with the routine and then making small changes can slowly grow your child’s food intake. Our dinner table is power struggle free, and my worry over his nutritional health is gone. Because, well, we’re working on it.

Join us on February 28 for a class on this topic. More info here >>

Continue with Part 2!

Read Part 3 and Part 4 to go beyond the dinner table.

katie loves

January 23, 2017
by JeanneLovesBooks

Emerging Readers – January

Katie Loves the Kittens by John Himmelman is about a rambunctious little dog, Katie, who loves her family’s new kittens so enthusiastically she scares them away. Katie is full of emotions. She loves the kittens, she leaps and howls with excitement when she sees them, and she is sad when she is told she has stay away until they get used to to her. She might even be a bit jealous when she sees her Sara Ann playing with the kittens. All these emotions come to life through the illustrations.

Katie tries hard to do what she is told and control her excitement. There are wonderful and very funny pictures of Katie literally shaking she is trying so hard. And, of course it doesn’t work – Katie howls her loud AROOOOO! AROOOOO! howl of excitement, runs and leaps and scares the kittens again. Eventually, Katie has a break through moment and learns to play gently with the kittens.  She learns how to be a friend and is really happy.

There are many children’s books where the main character is trying to control emotions. This one is different because the emotions that need to be moderated are positive: love, excitement and a desire to be friends. Another real strength of this book is the way Katie’s emotions are shown in the illustrations. Everyone can tell what Katie is feeling.

This is a good book to use for a child who is learning how to make friends, or who is trying to moderate emotions or behaviors.  It could also be a good book in a new baby situation.  Parents can refer back to Katie and say, “Are you feeling like Katie (so enthusiastic, sad or …)”  “Do you remember how Katie was trying to control her excitement?” “Is it hard to control your excitement (substitute appropriate emotion) like it was hard for Katie?”

My HeartMy Heart Fills with Happiness, by Monique Gray Smith is a very special little board book. It focuses on joy and happiness and noticing those things and moments in life that “fill your heart with happiness.” This is a book that was written “to support the wellness of indigenous children and families,” so some of the examples, such as bannock baking and drumming, have that specific cultural reference. But other examples, and the idea are universal – that we all benefit if we, and the children in our lives, take time to focus on the things in our life that give us joy. The last page asks, “What fills YOUR heart with happiness?” It is a good question for both adult and child.

Share Reading Tips

  • Talking about emotions is hard in the heat of the moment. Use these books to explore emotions in a safe space.
  • Pay attention to the ways in which we know how someone is feeling. Ask follow up questions like, “What do you see that makes you say that.”
  • Tie what’s happening in these pictures to your child’s everyday life. “When did you feel like Katie?” “Tell me about a time that you were happy.”
sensitive storytime

January 7, 2017
by Editorial Team

Sensitive Family Time in Plymouth

For families living with autism or other special needs. Explore the library at your own pace during this time set aside just for your family. You also may build with Legos or take a break with a therapy animal. Literacy resources and family resources will be shared. Each child may choose a gift book to keep.

Because the Plymouth Library does not open to the general public until noon, please enter through the south patio doors, which will be marked.

Be prepared for all the fun by reading this social story with your child!

Presented in collaboration with Center for Engaging Autism and Doggone Good Coaching. Gift books sponsored by the Friends of the Plymouth Library.

  • When: Sunday, February 12, 11:00 to noon
  • Where: Plymouth Library, 15700 36th Avenue North

November 17, 2016
by Margaret

Autism Therapies at Home

When my son was little, it seemed like we had to teach him everything about life. Taking the time to break it all down into “teachable moments.” He wasn’t like a typical kid who imitates what others do or explores possibilities themselves to figure out how things work. His autism dictated how he interacted with the world, from pulling my hand to the fridge when he wanted a glass of milk to his inability to simply put on socks.

But once he got a diagnoses, I started learning techniques to help him. Early Childhood Special Education teachers, occupational and speech therapists, and other parents of children with autism became my teachers too. Both my son and I had to figure things out, and figure them out we did.

Different therapies were constantly brought up – mainly Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) and Floortime. We couldn’t afford to hire a professional for either of these therapies, but my autism “teachers” started to show me the things they knew. And it all slowly started to help.

I have a very vivid memory of being taught about “backward chaining” – a term for an ABA technique where you teach the child how to do something from the last step to the first. After seeing a demonstration of putting a sock on my child’s foot, and pulling it all the way over the foot and then letting him pull it up the rest of the way up his leg, a lightbulb went off in my head.  All we did with that action was break down the steps to make it easy for him. Once he got used to that step, we put the sock on halfway up his foot and let him pull it over his heel. When he mastered that step, we just put the sock on his toes, and he learned how to pull it over his whole foot. And so it continued until the day he put the sock on all by himself!

I never imagined that I would have a “sock celebration” in my life. But that day was a celebration. That simple act of putting on a sock gave me such pride in him. It meant a whole lot more than mastering a simple daily task. Somewhere inside I knew he would learn. It would be his own way, but he would do it.

From the other end of the therapy spectrum, I knew a few parents who were very excited about Floortime therapy. I didn’t really understand it. I thought “All they are doing is playing with them.”  And what is play in the face of autism?

I have to admit, I’m not a natural “player” myself. My husband is, but I always chose a structured activity over spontaneous play with my son. It was through structure that I had learned how to enter his world.

Then a teacher loaned us a Floortime video so that we could see the ideas in action. And another light bulb flipped on. I realized that play is the vehicle for interaction and connection, that the simple act of riding a car on his arm engaged him in me and the world around him. I don’t think I became an expert player, but I found ways to extend our interactions and strengthen our relationship.

Using this technique changed things for my son. He started to become more interactive and even silly. I learned that silliness is progress too. My son had a Personal Care Assistant (PCA) who was an expert player. She used his new ability to be silly and had him running around in homemade teenage mutant ninja turtle masks. Adding some unexpected actions to his playtime led to that delight. Delight in him and delight in imaginative play.

I found that the more I learned about different therapies, the more I could put little touches into my son’s daily life. Each addition meant he had more opportunities to learn. “Doing” a therapy doesn’t always have to be a formal process; sometimes it literally is how we live our life, day to day, with our child.

Discover how you can infuse your daily life with Autism Therapies at Home on December 6!

November 17, 2016
by Editorial Team

ABC Toyzone for Autism

Finish up your holiday shopping, or just get it all done in one day, at ABC Toyzone on December 9th, 10th or 11th. Show this post on your phone or just mention Engaging Autism and 10% of your purchase will be donated to us! Support a local resource where education and play come together while supporting Engaging Autism and the work we do.


  • Burnsville: 14003 Grand Avenue South, 55337
  • Chanhassen: 860 West 78th Street, 55317
  • Rochester: 122 17th Avenue NW, 55901

Play is so important for kids living with autism. Often it is difficult to find toys that will help you engage with your child. That’s why we are excited about this event. Focusing on play can transform your relationship with your child and having a local resource that provides great educational options makes doing that a lot easier.