Autism Potty Training – The Ultimate Guide
Training a child to use the potty can be hard—and teaching a child with autism to use the potty can be even harder. As we all know, it can take a little longer for children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to master many everyday skills. As a result, mastering the skills to use the potty successfully can take years for a child with autism.
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There are myriad reasons for these challenges. Children with developmental delays may not realize the need to go potty. Other times, children can have communication challenges preventing them from telling someone when it’s time to go to the bathroom. Children with severe autism may not have the cognitive and motor skills to use a toilet. Patience is key.
But parents and carers of ASD kids shouldn’t stress too much over potty challenges because, as they say, for every problem, there is always a solution. In this article, we offer possible ways to make potty training easier for children with autism.
Toilet Training Issues Confronted by Autistic Children and Ways to Help
To better understand the challenges of autism and potty training, here are some issues kids may encounter while toilet training and some recommendations on how to resolve them:
The child has an excessive interest in repeated flushing or fear of flushing the toilet
Encourage your child to play with swirling water under supervision in a different area in your house. Ensure your child knows when you are going to flush the toilet when he/she is inside the bathroom as the roar of the toilet can be terrifying to some. Bring your child closer to the toilet by allowing him/her to stand nearby while you are flushing. You should also teach your child that you only flush once each time. When you think the child is ready, let him/her do the flushing while you watch.
The child does not want to sit and relax long enough in the potty chair or toilet
When you potty train or toilet train your child, ensure the seat of the potty chair or toilet is comfortable. You might first want to encourage the child to sit with his/her clothes on to create familiarity. You can experiment with the various features of the toilet or the potty chair to find a comfortable fit. Try offering a special reward for sitting and relieving himself/herself in the chair or toilet. You can use models like stuffed animals or dolls to practice sitting. A visual or auditory cue for how long your child should sit is also helpful.
The child only wants to play in the water or with the toilet paper
To resolve this, teach your child to play with water only in a specific area in your house. You should also take the toilet paper off the holder and put it on only when your child needs it. Teach him/her how to use it. You can also buy tissues that are pre-measured or folded, as well as boxes of flushable wipes.
The child does not want to clean up or does not like to touch dirty things
Always stay calm and focus on your child’s comfort when he/she makes a mess while cleaning up. If the child gets some feces on the hand and panics, show him/her how easy it is to clean up. You should also teach your child to wash hands with soap and water.
The child is afraid of bowel movements or has constipation
Help your child understand that the squatting and grunting he/she may be doing helps make a bowel movement. If your child hides in a corner when relieving himself/herself, tell the child the bathroom is the right place to poop. Reinforce this by placing a mat on the spot where you want the child to relieve himself/herself. You can also install a diaper-lined chair potty or toilet so your child can recognize it as a designated pooping area. If your child suffers from constipation regularly, you may need to consult a doctor on how to resolve the situation appropriately.
A boy who has difficulty standing while urinating
If your son is used to sitting while urinating, you can teach him how to urinate while standing by providing a visual chart on how boys use the bathroom. If he is afraid or does not want to touch his privates, you can ask a trusted male family member to show how to aim it in the toilet bowl. You may also use some target objects such as a colored toilet paper or a paper boat to encourage him to urinate in the bowl.
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Signs Your Child is Ready to Be Toilet-Trained
To increase the success of toilet-training your child with autism, you should be aware of the signs showing he/she is prepared for it. Among the possible signs are:
- When he/she shows awareness in being wet or soiled by pulling at or trying to take off a wet or soiled diaper, and/or trying to vocalize the displeasure of feeling wet or soiled
- When he/she tries to take you to the bathroom or gets a clean diaper
- When he/she stays dry and clean most nights
- When he/she responds to positive reinforcement or reward
- When he/she can imitate actions like sitting on the toilet
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How to Prepare for a Successful Toilet-Training Process
To ensure a successful toilet-training process, make sure your child doesn’t have any medical issues. A visit to the family doctor for a physical exam is a good idea. You should also contact your physician if you observe unusual signs such as painful urination, too much or too little urination, and/or the inability to hold urine.
Here are other tips for preparing to toilet-train your child:
- Experts say you should track and make a chart on the condition of your child every 20 to 30 minutes. Observe whether the child is wet, dry, or dirty. Continue monitoring his/her condition at least once a day per week after starting his/her training to keep track of progress.
- Based on the conditions you monitored, plan a schedule for going to the toilet. Prepare your bathroom and other areas in your house where the training will be conducted. Remove distractions and install the necessary accessories and equipment.
- Schedule a toilet training routine and share it with your child. You could create a picture or visual chart, as well as verbal cues of the routine so your child can fully understand it. As the child progresses, you can gradually remove the cues.
- Always give positive feedback on each accomplishment of your child. You may also use reinforcements, incentives, or rewards. Be patient with your child and give him/her time to practice the scheduled routines.
How to potty train an autistic child or Toilet Training Process with Autism
Here are some steps you can follow in toilet training your child:
1. Use Social Stories
Use social stories or books with your child’s favorite characters to introduce him/her to the process of using the toilet or the potty chair. Many applications (apps) featuring social stories and books are available on the market. Potty training apps like the one from 1tucan: Super-Intelligent Kids can help. Choose the app that works best with your child.
2. Read to Your Child
Read stories to your child while you are in the bathroom together every day. You should tell stories in a fun and engaging way. Explain each step to the child to help him/her learn the order in which to do things.
3. Encourage Independence
Encourage the child to do the steps himself/herself when you think he/she is familiar with the process. Do not push your child too much. This way he/she will not become stressed, and his/her interest in the story and activity will be maintained.
4. Use Positive Reinforcement
Introduce positive reinforcement and rewards for his/her accomplishments to sustain interest. Design the potty chair or toilet with your child’s favorite things as an added attraction or motivation for him/her to imitate your story. You can also give rewards for each completed step as a way to increase interest and self-confidence.
5. Teach Your Child How to Ask for Potty
Teach your child some terms to use when he/she wants or needs to use the toilet or potty. Among the possible terms, you can use are “potty now” and “toilet now.” Using these terms will enable the child to start the process and reinforce his/her confidence in completing the act. This will also inform you about the need, allowing you to make any necessary moves to assist him/her.
Additional Tips in Potty or Toilet Training a Child With ASD
Here are some extra tips for potty training and autism:
- Refrain from using childlike terms when training the child how to use the potty or toilet. You may teach the right terms while he/she is still young to make it easier later in life.
- Have your child drink water 10-15 minutes before the expected time he/she will go to the toilet. This will increase the chance your child uses the potty correctly. However, you should ensure he/she only drink the right amount of water as giving too much can create an unnatural routine.
- You may use wet wipes in the training of your child as toilet papers can create rashes on sensitive skin. You can also teach your child that the wipes should be placed in the trash bin for disposal rather than flushed down the toilet. Flushable wipes are available as well.
- When you are traveling, and your journey is expected to take hours, you should avoid giving too many drinks to your child. You can also put a protector on your child’s car seat to prevent it from being soiled by accident.
- You can teach your child how to use the toilet when you go out to places such as malls and parks when he/she is toilet-trained at home. You may use the same routine you do at home when training your child how to use the toilet in said places.
Training an autistic child to use the toilet or potty chair can be a very long and challenging process, but it can be done. You have to be patient, well-prepared, and determined to do the job. You should also be proactive in finding new ways and tools, as well as additional tips to help you in the process. Your success in this endeavor marks the first step toward your ultimate goal of potty training your child how to take care of himself/herself alone and/or live on his/her own.
Keep in mind that toilet training can be a lengthy process and some children on the spectrum may be slower to reach this milestone than others. In the meantime, if it’s necessary to wear diapers, pull-ups, or youth pants for an extended number of years, there are options available.
Download our FREE guide on the Autism Potty Training
Amy KD Tobik, Editor-in-Chief of Autism Parenting Magazine, has more than 30 years of experience as a published writer and editor. A graduate of Sweet Briar College in Virginia, Amy’s background includes magazine, newspaper, and book publishing. As a special needs advocate and editor, she coordinates with more than 300 doctors, autism specialists, and researchers to ensure people diagnosed with autism receive the services and supports they need for life. She has two adult children and lives in the Carolinas with her husband.
Autism Parenting Magazine tries to deliver honest, unbiased reviews, resources, and advice, but please note that due to the variety of capabilities of people on the spectrum, information cannot be guaranteed by the magazine or its writers. Medical content, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained within is never intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a physician with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read within.