Potty training a child is a tricky task irrespective of whether the child has special needs or not. But that said, the process of potty training children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) may take longer and has its own set of challenges.
Children with autism are highly attached to their routines, and making even the slightest change can disturb them. Transitioning from diapers to the potty seat is a major change, and when autism is combined with communication challenges, it can make the transition more difficult for you and the child. However, it is not impossible to potty train a child with autism.
In this post, we give you some practical tips on potty training children with autism.
Right Age To Potty Train Children With Autism
While some children with ASD show readiness to be potty trained at the same time as other children, delays are common.
“The age at which any child is fully potty trained varies widely — even in neurotypical children. The answer here will depend on where your child falls on the spectrum, their communication skills, the extent of any existing sensory challenges, and if there are any significant gross motor
Delays,” explains Mary Vaughn, a potty training coach certified by the Institute of Pediatric Sleep and Parenting in both Potty Training and Special Needs and the founder of Mother Together.
There is no identified perfect age to potty train children with autism. Children usually show signs of potty training readiness by the age of two to three years. However, children with autism and other conditions may take longer to be potty-training ready based on the severity and symptoms of their condition.
Signs A Child With Autism Is Ready To Be Potty Trained
The following signs may indicate that the child is ready to be potty trained.
- The child has become aware of the need to go to the toilet.
- The child shows behavioral changes such as appearing upset, fidgety or distracted when they have peed or pooped their pants.
- The child informs you when they need a change of u
- The child is aware and conveys that they have finished peeing or pooping.
- The child begins to show interest in using the restroom without being prompted.
- The child shows improved bladder and bowel control by being able to avoid pee and poop accidents for one to two hours at a time every day.
- The child follows simple instructions, such as, “Sit on the toilet seat.”
- The child is able to pull their pants up and down.
- The child has a regular or predictable toilet schedule.
Tips For Potty Training Children With Autism
The following tips might help you potty train your child with autism.
1. Use visual prompts
Giving instructions using simple words along with visual support has been found to be effective in potty training children with autism. Use direct language. Instead of asking questions, such as “Do you want to pee?” tell them, “Let’s go; it’s pee time.”
You may use similar simple and clear visual pictures in the bathroom to help the child get the message without any discussion.
2. Do not delay the underwear
Children in diapers and pull-ups may not realize that they have peed. Putting the child in underwear can help them associate the discomfort of wetness with pee accidents, thereby helping in toilet training. You may buy underwear with their favorite cartoon characters in them.
3. Do not make a big deal about pee or poop accidents
During the process of potty training, if the child has any pee or poop accidents, refrain from mocking, teasing, scolding, fussing, or pleading with them to tell you when they want to use the restroom. Instead, give them a gentle reminder and clean the mess up without making a big deal about it.
4. Reward them
Give them small treats, toys, stickers, candies, etc., when they have toileting success to motivate them. However, reserve these treats only for successful toileting episodes.
5. Keep track of their schedule
Make notes for when your child has a pee or poop accident to identify their pee pattern. You might be able to determine how soon they pee after drinking water, milk, or any other beverage. Once you determine this schedule, make sure you take them to the restroom at the identified time. Appreciate them when they pee or poop successfully.
6. Encourage the child to communicate
Encourage your child to communicate freely with you when they need to use the toilet. If the child has trouble communicating verbally, encourage them to convey their needs by using signs. For example, you can clip a picture card to their belt or shirt hole, so they can point to it whenever they want to pee.
If the child uses an assisted communication device, you can incorporate a picture of the toilet that the child can press to give you a cue. You can also get them a ringing bell and tell them to ring it when they want to use the restroom.
7. Create a conducive environment
Create a calm and relaxing environment in the bathroom. Whether it is the lighting, fans, foot supports, or water temperature, ensure everything is to their liking. Try to remove all distractions in the toilet to ensure your child focuses only on toilet training.
8. Flush after they leave
A loud flushing sound can disturb the child. Let them leave the restroom before you flush it. Some children may not like the feeling of washing their hands—use wipes to clean their hands. Flushing and washing can be introduced and taught later.
9. Keep an eye on the child’s cues
When the child becomes more aware of their need to pee or poop, they may begin to exhibit more apparent signs of their need to use the restroom. An increase in rocking, holding oneself, increased vocalizations, or other signs may be cues that the child needs to use the restroom. Children may also show signs such as looking at you or the bathroom when they want to pee.
Parents, caregivers, and teachers should keep a vigilant eye on these signs and encourage the child to continue with their chosen way of communicating their need to use the bathroom. Let them choose their mode of communication-visual aid, speech device, or pointing their fingers.
10. Seek professional help
Despite all your efforts, if you feel you have hit a roadblock or are not able to see any success on the path to toilet training your child, do not hesitate to seek the help of an autism specialist. “If your child becomes constipated, take a break. The discomfort associated with constipation can become a massive setback for potty trainees, so it is far more important to keep things moving through their system smoothly than it is to press on with potty training. Consult with your pediatrician if your child goes more than 48 hours without a bowel movement,” states Vaughn.
Avoid potty training when there are some significant changes happening in their lives, such as parental divorce, moving to a new house or city, and joining a new school. If, despite trying everything, you are unable to achieve any progress in potty training them, consider taking a break, as it could mean that they are not ready yet. Resume three months after you commence the break. At times, taking a break may help in achieving the goal sooner when you try again.