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Not All “Developmental Delays” Make a Child Potty-Delayed

This touching guest post is from a former GDF coach, Michelle Swaney. Thanks for the transparent sharing of your challenging journey, Michelle! xx Andrea

A Challenging Beginning

When I was 35 weeks pregnant with my second child, I found out something was quite wrong with my baby girl. She had essentially stopped growing in utero. I ended up delivering at 38 ½ weeks a bitty 4 lb. 11 oz babe who had as many issues as I had NICU-induced lack-of-sleep.

We were warned about long-term affects; namely, she might have developmental delays, physical delays, a lifetime glucose imbalance, brain damage, a chromosomal defect and/or genetic disorder...but I couldn’t let myself worry too much...she was our daughter, and we would love her and encourage her and make do with the problems that may come our way.

Nonetheless, I cried when she first rolled over and I cried again when she sat up for the first time (both were things we were warned might never happen).

I anticipated a speech delay, but cried again when she finally said “Dada” at 18-months, actually acknowledging my husband as the recipient of that “Dada.”

I Wanted to Communicate with Her

All that said, I was preparing for the worst. While in college, I took care of a 12-year-old with cerebral palsy and a host of other medical issues. I had seen up-close what some of “the worst" could potentially look like. He was a child with the cognitive ability of a 3-month-old, and yet still he was able to communicate, if you bothered to listen long enough.

I knew that even in the “worst” state, I wanted to be able to communicate with my daughter – even if she never spoke an intelligible word. So, I began my second child’s elimination communication journey (infant potty training).

Because of ALL the doctor’s appointments, having a surgery herself, another few days of in-patient testing, and other medical issues in the family, I didn’t “officially” start EC until about 4 months old...but by 6 months the nursing staff at our local ER knew I was “that lady who’s really tiny baby pees on the potty.”

I hated that my biggest infant potty training encouragers were the nursing staff at the local children’s hospital...but that’s where I lived off-and-on for the course of a year between my two kiddos’ medical needs. Any support you can get on your pottying journey is welcomed!

I knew that if I had a daughter who couldn’t talk, then I needed to figure out a way to communicate with her otherwise. Elimination Communication (EC) provided that avenue of communication for our family.

She was fully potty independent before age two, even though our family still uses sounds most of the time instead of potty words. It’s where our daughter is at in her oral skills, so that’s how we do our EC (still by sound association). But, it works for us.

She can tell us she needs to go, go, wipe, and dump her little potty into the toilet herself, but I still help with clothes manipulation some of the time.

For a little lady whom we were told may never sit-up alone, that girl’s impressively got pottying down pat! What a blessing it has been to our family to communicate with our little girl, from an age that some without developmental delays don’t have their potty needs or communication attempts met. She has shown baffling progress in so many areas, and already being potty trained stumps doctors and therapists left and right.

Simultaneous Medical Challenges for Our Other Child

All the while, as our 4-to-12-month old girl learned to potty, our already potty-trained 2 ½ year-old son had 3 surgeries in the course of a year. Each time he had surgery he was made to go back into diapers again and again for post-op hygienic purposes. It was a horrible experience for us all, each time.

I tried to explain to medical personnel he was potty trained. Regardless, they put him back in (double-layered) diapers after every surgery, for the ease of routine care & checks and to prevent infection.

My son cried and cried, “No diapers, Mama!”

He would be put back into diapers for a week (just enough time to get re-trained into diapers again), and then had to be trained back out of them, time and again. He essentially got potty trained 3 additional times. It was a rough road.

Potty training was the least of the trials, but I definitely got experience and was able to notice pottying signs at different ages.

I know infant potty training and toddler potty training can seem like a lot of work sometimes. Any sort of life-long teaching always is. But, this additional method of communication has only increased our communication skills and family bond, and it proves that some of the innate things, such as a babe or toddler not wanting to sit in “it,” aren’t hindered by delayed speech, family medical emergencies, or even a lack of pottying “accessories.” (Most of the time, I just had a babe in a carrier and a public restroom, and we did just fine.)

Has your family had any medical or developmental-related pottying set-backs? Any suggestions from your experience for other readers? Please add them to the comments, below.

Best wishes on your pottying journey and may yours be filled with far less medical trials!

Michelle Swaney

The Potty School

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Resource Recommendation

Go Diaper Free: my popular EC book that simplifies EC, beginning to end.

Andrea Olson

About Andrea Olson

I'm Andrea and I spend most of my time with my 6 children (all under 12 yo) and the rest of my time teaching other new parents how to do Elimination Communication with their 0-18 month babies. I love what I do and try to make a difference in one baby or parent's life every single day. (And I love, love, love, mango gelato.)


  1. Avatar Kerstin on March 20, 2016 at 4:33 pm

    what a touching story. I’m so glad to hear that your little girl surpassed all the predictions! Love is a very strong healing force, I think.
    Incredible how EC improves communication and fosters that family bond. Initially, I didn’t start EC because of this aspect, but having gone through the journey with our son, I learned that it is a very powerful connection you make with your baby/kid.
    I totally can relate to your son’s reluctance to go back to diapers at the hospital. My son had an accident and broke his hips. Even though lifting him onto the bed pan hurt him, he insisted in going potty there and not the diaper. It broke my heart to see him in pain and struggling to poop in a laying position. He actually wanted me to take him to the big toilet, but he was not allowed to sit. So we had to talk him through the process and he finally could do it. The nurses were very understanding, but one female doctor was like, “what are you doing. Why bother”? I just had to respect what my toddler asked for.


    • Avatar Michelle Swaney on March 20, 2016 at 6:44 pm

      Kerstin, so sorry you and your little guy had to go through all that! It’s hard enough having a healthy child. I bet that was a stressful, tiring season. Thanks for your sweet words. As I’m expecting my third in just a few weeks I’m preparing my heart for the heartstrings that will be tugged at all over again! How these little people just make us love them, no matter what.

  2. Avatar Heidi on March 20, 2016 at 6:52 pm

    Thank you for sharing your touching story. It’s wonderful that EC provided a way for you to communicate with your daughter. I haven’t dealt with developmental or medical set-backs, but I admire your strength and perseverance.

  3. Avatar Anastacia on March 21, 2016 at 7:43 pm

    I’m so glad you wrote about this specifically and whole heartedly agree!
    My daughter was born blind, with Septo optic dysplasia (aka optic nerve hypoplasia), cortical migration disorder, hypotonia (low muscle tone), and developmentally delayed. I switched to cloth diapers when I became a single parent after her diagnosis around 6 months old to try to save money, and didn’t know about “E.C.” yet but was already doing it (as that’s what some old school Asian families naturally do) because I didn’t want to clean off poop from her diapers, but also because I knew (past experience as a nanny for normal kids) how very hard potty training can be so I just started putting her on the toilet once I realized her poop signal (she would kick her legs quickly). But by the time she turned 1 I was no longer changing any poopy diapers (which made cloth diapers a breeze). She was nonverbal for a long time but when she could finally sound out the Chinese syllable for poo, it was one of her first words.
    She never used the baby potty (I think it just felt like a weird chair to her) and she needs help getting onto the toilet, and I still need to hold her due to her hypotonia but she is pretty much potty trained now at 2.5 years, even half the night time diapers (which unfortunately does mean I have to get up with her in the middle of the night and risk her not going back to bed because of her lack of night/light perception). I think she would’ve been ready lots earlier, since she just automatically started asking for it when I stopped diapers due to a rash, but it was me that wasn’t ready for her to stop the diapers as soon…
    I’m grateful this is one less milestone I have to focus on and wished I’d actually known EC was a method! I hope you get the word out to other parents!

  4. Avatar Dawn on April 11, 2018 at 10:28 am

    Hi thanks for the article. I think a lot of ppl wrongly assume that potty training is dependent on cognitive and mental awareness. I’m not sure why doctors are stumped at your progress. I get that certain muscles might take longer to develop, but that goes to show that potty training is based on physical development, not mental. Ppl have a conceptual understanding that potty training shouldn’t start until they are ready. True to some extent, but the potty training readiness seems to focus too much on mental awareness than physical readiness.

  5. Avatar Dawn on April 11, 2018 at 10:42 am

    I also meant to add that putting a 2 1/2 year old back into diapers after being potty trained is just poor judgement by the hospital. After teaching a child how to go to the bathroom and he picks up on this being a private matter…ruining his dignity by putting him in diapers is downright barbaric by the hospital. Not to mention the long term effects something like that can have on his self-esteem. I want to avoid that hospital.

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