No matter how old a child is, struggling with incontinence isn’t easy. It can be stressful for the entire family, especially when autism is involved. Incontinence and autism are often coupled together, due to the toileting delay, cognitive and sensory issues can cause. However, it doesn’t have to be stressful, as a few easy steps can help your child manage their incontinence during the school day.
Helping children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) with incontinence
Where your child lands on the autism spectrum can contribute to incontinence symptoms in different ways. For example, a cognitive delay could delay your child’s potty training a little beyond the average age, but a physical disability could prevent him/her from communicating the need to go or prevent the child from making it to the toilet in time.
No matter how severely ASD affects your child, be sure to take him/her to the doctor as soon as symptoms appear. This way, the doctor will be able to rule out whether the incontinence is caused by a more serious condition and create a proper management or treatment plan.
While some children require medicine to treat a urinary tract infection (UTI) or some extra time to learn proper toileting techniques, in some cases, incontinence can only be managed. Keep in mind that when it comes to your child’s diagnosis, you need to be there for them with support and understanding. Incontinence is a source of anxiety and embarrassment, so becoming frustrated with your child may worsen symptoms.
Here are some steps to help your autistic child manage symptoms better incontinence at school:
1. Inform your child’s teachers of toileting delay
You don’t have to struggle with your child’s incontinence on your own. Their school nurse, principal, and teachers can help when you can’t be there with them.
Teachers can help out by allowing your child to sit closer to the door and by letting them quietly leave to use the restroom when necessary. If your child has difficulty communicating the need to go, he/she can develop a code word or symbol for when he/she needs to go or when they have an accident. Teachers may also be able to recognize signs that your child needs to go.
It’s common for children with autism to enjoy routines, so if their teacher knows that, they can remind your child to go to the restroom regularly. They can also remind them to go during fun activities, such as group projects or games, as some children fail to recognize the need to go when they’re focused on other events.
2. Send your child to school prepared
Make sure your child goes to school with all of the materials needed in the event of an accident, such as enough diapers to last the entire day, a change of clothes, wet wipes for quick and easy clean-ups, and hand sanitizer.
Also, avoid cafeteria food. Foods with a lot of grease, sugar, carbs, caffeine, and spice can add pressure on the digestive tract, making incontinence symptoms worse. Pack healthy foods such as fruits, veggies, and protein for the proper amount of fiber and nutrition. Make sure they have enough water or sugar-free juice to last the entire day as well. Getting enough fluids is essential for preventing constipation, which could make urinary incontinence worse.
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3. Work on toilet training methods
Be consistent in teaching your child toileting techniques with support and rewards. Set up a calendar and provide a sticker for each day your child can make it through accident-free. Then, provide rewards for making it more extended periods without accidents. Always use positive reinforcement and show that you’re proud when successful trips to the bathroom are made.
Avoid punishing your child for having an accident. Let him/her know that everything is alright, and tomorrow will be better. To hold your child accountable, it can help to have him/her assist with the clean-up process.
Help the child in the bathroom to ensure he/she is comfortable going potty alone. Monitor behavior for any difficulties, such as wiping or sensory issues. If the toilet flush is too loud for them, don’t make the child flush, or if the child doesn’t like the mirror reflection, suggest he/she walk with the back to it.
Bathroom changes and public restrooms can make children nervous. Be sure to remind your child that using the bathroom is entirely normal and help him/her learn stress relief techniques like taking deep breaths to calm down.
If your child only likes to pass stool at home, work with them to understand that the body clock isn’t always on a regular schedule. Help them realize when they have the urge to go and to listen to that urge. Encourage them to go instead of trying to hold it until after school. If your child is resistant to change, be persistent, and help them gradually make changes over time.
4. Be patient as every child is different
Each child is unique and may learn proper toileting techniques at a different rate, but don’t give up. Be consistent and work with your child every day until he/she no longer needs incontinence supplies. Continue taking your child to a urologist to make sure you have the latest treatment options and to make any necessary changes to your care methods. With the proper incontinence products and plan, your child’s incontinence will be much easier to manage.
This article was featured in Issue 91 – Great Back-to-School Strategies