Tag Archives: low muscle tone

Low Tone and Constipation: Why This Issue Delays Toilet Training Progress

Kids with low tone and sensory processing disorders are not the only children who struggle with constipation, but it is more common for them.  The reasons are many:  low abdominal and oral tone, less use of available musculature because they use compensatory sitting and standing (the schlump, the lean, the swayback) patterns, and even food choices that have less fiber.  If you struggle to chew and swallow, you probably aren’t drinking enough and eating those fruits and veggies that have fiber.  Sucking applesauce packets may get you Vitamin C, but it has pulverized all that fiber.  Now add discomfort with the sensory experience: the smells, feelings, sounds of bathrooms and using the potty.  It can all be too much!

Without fluids, fiber and intra-abdominal pressure to support peristalsis (the automatic contraction of the intestines), children with low tone are at a huge risk for constipation.  And constipation makes pooping harder and even painful.  Sensory overload makes kids agitated, distracted, and sometimes even aggressive.  Not good for learning or letting it go into the toilet.  Hence, resistance and even fear of pooping, and therefore more stress and withholding of stool.  A really big problem, one that you may have to get your pediatrician’s assistance to solve.

It can change.  Here is your secret weapon: your child’s occupational therapist.  If you haven’t been involved in your child’s therapy before, this might be the time.  Research has shown that sensory-based issues can contribute to toileting problems, and OTs are capable of evaluating all the sensory and motor-based contributors.  While  your pediatrician gives you recommendations on diet, laxatives and more, your OT can help your child stay in the alert-but-calm zone where digestion is relaxed, get better core stability to help push that poop along, and adapt the toileting experience for minimal sensory aversion and maximal sensory perception.  Take a look at Low Tone and Toilet Training: How Your Child’s Therapists Can Help You and Low Tone and Toilet Training: The Importance of Dry Runs (Pun Totally Intended).

Update:  Many of my clients have been successful with a creative combo approach:  they use stool softeners, they limit refined carbs (sorry, Goldfish crackers are cheese plus refined carbs!), ensure lots of fluids and then add some tasty fiber.  Prunes covered with chocolate have been popular, but beware the results of too much of a good thing!  They use abdominal massage and make sure that their physical and occupational therapists are working those core stabilizers.

There are medications that improve gastric motility, but they aren’t always tolerated or even prescribed for small children.  Pediatricians are very hesitant to be aggressive with a small child that could dehydrate in a few hours of diarrhea.  Find a doctor that listens to you and is creative.  My suggestion?  Think outside the box and consider an osteopath.  They are “real” doctors, but they have more training in alternative and manual treatment approaches.

Think constipation is only going to affect pooping?  Wrong!  Read Is Your Constipated Toddler Also Having Bladder Accidents? Here Are Three Possible Reasons Why to understand more about how this problem can contribute to other toilet training struggles.

Good news!

My book, The Practical Guide to Toilet Training Your Child With Low Muscle Tone, is done and available at  Your Therapy Source ( a terrific site for parents and therapists!), on Amazon as well as on my website, tranquil babies !!  Just click on the “e-book” section, and start making progress with your child today!

I include detailed readiness checklists and a full explanation of how to train your child in all aspects of toilet training.  You will know how to get the right equipment, what clothes to use so that dressing doesn’t derail your child’s best efforts, and how to deal with defiance and distress.  And yes, constipation is addressed in more detail than in this blog post.  It may turn out to be only one of the issues that you have to confront.  Don’t worry, help has arrived!

If you want a hard copy, contact me through my site and request a mailing address for your payment.

            As I say in my book:  be prepared, be consistent, expect to practice, and be positive that you and your child can do this!

 

 

 

 

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Low Tone and Toilet Training: How Your Child’s Therapists Can Help You

Over the years as an occupational therapist, I have been giving parents hints here and there.  Writing my e-book  this fall, and preparing an e-course (coming soon) to support families makes me realize that some clients did not ask me very many questions while they were toilet training their child.

So….Are there aspects of therapy that can help you with toilet training?  Yes indeed!  Does getting more therapy mean that your child will automatically be trained earlier and more easily?  Unfortunately, not really.

When it comes to potty training, you can bring a child to the potty, but you can’t make him “make”.  Toilet training is a complex skill, and even the best therapy will still only prepare all of you and develop important skills needed for this skill.  Bringing it all together is still the job of the parent or the full-time caregiver that creates and executes the plan. Waiting for readiness?  Read Waiting for Toilet Training Readiness? Create It Instead!  to understand what you can do today to inspire interest and build skills. Thinking that it’s too soon?   How Early Can You Start Toilet Training?  will shad some light on what is really important when you are wondering if your child is old enough.  If you are wondering if your child’s diagnosis is part of the issue, take a look at Why Do Some Kids With ASD and SPD Refuse Toilet Training?  And finally, if you are eager to move into night-time training, read Why is Staying Dry at Night So Challenging For Some Children? for support at the finish line of toilet training.

Here is a list of what therapy can do to support you and your child for toilet training.  If you haven’t heard your therapists discussing these treatment goals/approaches, you might want to share this post with them.  They may be more focused on other very important skills right now, but always keep your discussions open and inform them that you are planning on training.  Most therapists are very eager to support families whenever they can with whatever goals the family has.

  1. Core stability for balance, abdominal strength and safety on the toilet.  Most kids with low tone do not have great core stability, and this is where the rubber meets the road.  A weak core will put a child at greater risk of falling or feeling like he will fall.  It is harder to relax and pee/poop if you are afraid you will land on the floor.
  2. Clothing management and hand washing.  No child is really independent in using the toilet if someone else has to pull clothing up and down.  Washing hands is a hygiene essential.  Time to learn.
  3.   Good abdominal tone.  See #1.  Helps with intestinal motility as well.  That is the contraction of smooth muscle that moves the poop through the colon and on out.  My favorite hack is the use of kineseotape in the classic abdominal facilitation pattern.  All but one of my clients have had a nice big bowel movement the next day after taping; no pain, no fuss.  Regular taping along with strengthening can improve proprioceptive awareness internally (interoception, for those of you who need a new word for the week!)
  4. Transfers and equipment assessment/recommendations.  Therapists can teach your child how to get on/off, up and down safely from a toilet or potty seat.  They can teach you what to say and do to practice transfers and how to guard them while they practice.  They can also take a look at what you already own and what you might need to obtain.  Children with significant motor issues may need an adaptive toileting seat, but most mildly to moderately low-toned kids do not need that level of support.  What they do need is safe and correctly-sized equipment.
  5. Proprioceptive awareness for balance and stability.  Some therapists use balance discs or boards, some use other equipment.  Swings, climbing, jumping, etc.  More body awareness= more independence.
  6. Sensory tolerance for the feeling of clothing, using wipes/TP, the smells and the small enclosure of a bathroom.  If your child has sensory sensitivity issues in daily life, you have to know that they are going to be issues with toilet training.
  7. Effective vestibular processing.  Children that have to turn around, bend and look down then behind their bodies to get TP or pull up their pants need efficient vestibular systems.  Vestibular processing isn’t just for walking and sitting at a table for school.
  8. Practicing working as a team and following directions.  Your child needs to be responsive to either your praise, your rewards or both.  Therapists that support independence (all of us!) and develop in your child the sense that the she is a part of the therapy plan will make it easier for your child to work with you on toileting!

 

 My e-book, The Practical Guide to Toilet Training Your Child With Low Muscle Tone is now available at Amazon.com as well as Your Therapy Source ( a terrific site for parents and therapists)  and on my website,  tranquil babies .  Families are telling me that they have made progress in potty training right away after reading my book!

Read The Practical Guide to Toilet Training Your Child With Low Muscle Tone: Help Has Arrived!  to learn how my book will help you and your child move forward today!

 

 

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Kids with low tone benefit significantly from supportive seating for eating, playing, and yes, toileting.  Picking the right training potty can make all the difference for them, and their parents. My new favorites for smaller children (smaller than the average 3-4 year-old) are the Little Colorado Potty Chair and the Fisher Price Custom Comfort Potty seat.  For older or larger children, I suggest that you take a look at my post on using the adult toilet for equipment ideas. Equipment matters, it really does. Why? Let me give you a short review of what potty seats need to provide for children, and why.

Low muscle tone makes children less stable, and when they are using a toilet, they are not sitting/standing passively. For little boys, you also have to consider standing to urinate. Although it can be easier to start teaching a boy to urinate in sitting, it seems to me that it quickly becomes natural and physically easier for all but the most unstable boys to shift to standing. This means that they may need to hold onto the raised seat for stability or hold onto the edge of the vanity cabinet or even a handrail.

Selecting a potty seat is seating them for action!  They need to be able to sit straight, get on and off independently and safely, and feel stable enough to let go.  The right seat will let them be slightly flexed forward with knees up above their hips a tiny bit.  This allows them to use their abdominal muscles more effectively to perform a gentle Valsalva Maneuver.

This position is the way traditional cultures “make”; they squat and bend forward, increasing the intra-abdominal pressure to help empty their bowels without straining or holding their breath.  Children with low tone almost always have weak abdominal musculature, and can even have poor smooth muscle contraction of the lower intestine.  That slows the timely movement of feces, contributing to constipation and straining.  Have you ever had the indignity and frustration of trying to have a bowel movement in a bedpan?  Enough said.

Learning a new skill, a skill that is not visible and involves both motor, sensory and cognitive abilities, is best done with equipment that fully supports skill development.  Children often have fears, including fears of falling in.  They get frustrated and don’t want to bother to sit when they could be playing.  The list goes on.  Pick well and a child can learn faster and become more independent.  Pick poorly and learning can be slower, more uncomfortable or embarrassing, or convince both of you to just give up for now.  Want your OT or PT to help you decide?  Read Low Tone and Toilet Training: How Can Your Child’s Therapists Help You ?  and see all the things that therapists can do to help you train your child.

And of course, my e-book, The Practical Guide to Toilet Training Your Child With /Low Muscle Tone will help you will all aspects of potty training.  Read more about this unique book here:The Practical Guide to Toilet Training Your Child With Low Muscle Tone: Potty Training Help Has Arrived!

Here is a short review of what my favorite seats have to offer:

Fisher Price Custom Comfort Potty Seat

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Pros:

  • This seat delivers a lot of support, with both a high back and armrests.  A child can feel very supported and safe.
  • Kids can use the armrests to re-position themselves independently and get on/off with less or without help.
  • Small size helps the younger or smaller child get their feet flat and have a better sense of their body position.  Even with the ability to raise the seat an inch or two, it is pretty short.
  • All-plastic construction is easy to clean.
  • A splash guard is molded into the bucket for those little boys who need some redirection.
  • Compact size is easier for travel.  Not if you have a Mini Cooper perhaps, but if you have larger car, you will be able to take your child’s comfortable potty with you on trips.  Nothing ruins a good time like accidents or constipation because a child is too anxious or unstable to “go”.

Cons:

  •  this is not one size fits all; the older and wider child could feel cramped or have their knees way too high for good posture or even comfort.  A shallow seat makes it harder for larger boys to aim accurately when peeing, and doesn’t give taller children of both genders enough input through their thighs for postural control.  Imagine sitting on a tiny little seat; you have to work extra hard to stabilize your body.
  • The short curved armrests may be angled too much to help with standing/sitting if a child really needs support.  They are not independent if they need help to get on and off the potty.

Little Colorado Potty Chair

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This natural wood chair looks like what it is: a traditional commode-style potty.  You can get it in a painted version, and I would opt for that, since the extra layers of finish should be the easiest to clean.

Pros:

  • You can get some add-ons that have benefits: a toilet paper holder and a book rack that attach on either side. The TP roll holder gives a child some independence with wiping (as long as they don’t think that rolling it out to the end is a fun game) .  I would think twice about the book rack for a child that struggles to perceive sensation from the bowel or bladder.  Lots of kids like to look at books while waiting, but for some kids any distractions hinder the ability to accurately perceive bladder/bowel information.  Why Low Muscle Tone Creates More Toilet Training Struggles for Toddlers (and Parents!)
  • This chair has a wide, straight back and straight armrests for extra stability and support.
  • This chair is higher, wider and deeper than the FP chair above.  For bigger kids or older children who are being trained later due to developmental delays, this is a big help.  It is hundreds of dollars less than the adapted toilet chairs that kids with more severe or multiple delays really need.  Most children with low tone are not going to need that level of stabilization, and getting more support than you need is not helpful, it slows down independence.

Cons:

  • The bucket insert doesn’t have a splash guard.  That means that little boys especially must be positioned well.  Kids with low tone often shift around more than the average toddler, so keep and eye on the position of everything while using this seat.
  • This chair is not travel-friendly, unless you drive an Escalade or a Tahoe.  It is affordable, so if you have a summer home or if you visit relatives regularly, you can pick up a pair and leave one there.

Neither chair plays music when you pee, has characters all over it, or does anything else but let your child sit there in peace, stable and ready to do the deal.  If you truly need those other things, I guess you could sing a potty song and find some stickers.  Hopefully your child will be able to train quickly and then advance to the next level:  using the adult toilet.

If you have a tall toddler, or your child is over 3.5 years of age, you may not have much choice.  The best system for very unsteady kids is shown in this post Low Tone and Toilet Training: Transition to Using The Adult Toilet , and I have also seen people use something call the Squatty Potty footstool for a bit higher support than the Baby Bjorn stool that I love. The area for foot placement is relatively small, so kids that pay no attention to where their feet are might not be ready for this one.  The squatty folks make a foldaway one with a tote bag that you could take when you go out and use discreetly in public toilets.  Genius.  And then there is the child-height toilet.  It isn’t difficult to find online, and even the big box stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s carry them online.  It can mean the difference between fear and confidence, so check out Should You Install a Child-Sized Potty for Your Special Needs Child?.

Want more information about toilet training the child with low tone?  I wrote a book for you!  Visit my website tranquil babies and click on the e-book section in the top ribbon. It is also available on Amazon.com and Your Therapy Source.  This book gives you extensive readiness checklists that help you make a plan, it teaches you how to navigate problems like refusals and fears, and explains why low tone is such an issue with toilet training!

Looking for seating that isn’t a potty seat?  Check out The Cube Chair: Your Special Needs Toddler’s New Favorite Seat! ,  Kids With Low Muscle Tone Can Sit For Dinner: A Multi-Course Strategy and A Simple Strategy To Improve Your Child’s Posture In A Stokke Tripp Trapp or Special Tomato Chair.

Is Low Muscle Tone A Sensory Processing Issue?

Only if you think that sensing your body’s position and being able to perceive the degree/quality of your movement is sensory-based.  I’m being silly; of course low tone creates sensory processing issues.

It isn’t the same sensory profile as the child who can’t pay attention when long sleeves brush his skin, nor the child who cannot tolerate the bright lights and noise at his brother’s basketball games.  Having difficulty perceiving your foot position on a step, or not knowing how much force you are using on a pencil can make life a challenge.  Sensory processing issues mean that the brain isn’t interpreting the sensory information it receives, or that the information it receives is inadequate.

That is the situation with low muscle tone.  Low tone reduces the amount of joint and muscle receptor firing because these receptors need either pressure or stretch to activate.  If it is not in a sufficient quantity, the receptors will not fire in time or in large enough numbers to alert the brain that a change has occurred. Therefore, the brain cannot create an appropriate response to the situation.   What does this look like?  Your child slowly sliding off the side of a chair but not noticing it, or your child grinding her crayon into the paper until it rips, then crying because she has ruined another Rapunzel picture.

Muscle tone is a tricky thing to change, since it is mediated by the lower parts of the brain.  That means it is not under conscious control.  You cannot meditate your way to normal tone, and you can’t strengthen your way there either.  Strength and tone are entirely different.  Getting and keeping strength around joints is a very important goal for anyone with low tone, and protecting ligaments from injury is too.  Stronger muscles will provide more active contraction and therefore pressure, but when at rest, they are not going to respond any differently.

Therapists have some strategies to improve tone for functional activities, but they have not been proven to alter the essential cause of low muscle tone.  Even vestibular activities, the big guns of the sensory gym, can only alter the level of tone for a short period during and after their use.   The concept of a sensory diet is an appropriate image, as it feeds the brain with some of the information that doesn’t get transmitted from joints and muscles.    Sensory diets require some effort and thought, just like food diets.  Just bouncing on a therapy ball and jumping up and down probably will not do very much for any specific child.  Think of a sensory diet like a diabetic diet. It doesn’t make the pancreas start producing insulin, but it helps the system regulate blood glucose more effectively.

Managing low muscle tone for better movement, safety and function is complicated.  Step one is to understand that it is more than a child’s rounded back when sitting, or a preschooler that chews his shirtsleeve.  Step two is to make a multifocal plan to improve daily life.

For more information on life hacks for toilet training, dressing and play with children that have low muscle tone, please look in the archives section of my blog for targeted ideas! My post and are new posts that go into more details regarding life with kids that have sensory processing issues.

For personalized recommendations on equipment and methods to improve a child’s functional skills, visit my website and buy a 30-minute consult.  We can chat, do FaceTime, and you get the personal connection you need to make your decisions for your family!