How I Potty Trained My Child With Autism

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When it comes to potty training your child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), the traditional methods most people use may not work for your child. If you clicked on this post, you either haven’t started your potty training journey yet, or you are at a point of being deeply frustrated because methods most people use have not worked.

How To Teach Potty Training An Autistic Child

Toileting is one of the hardest things you will do during your autism journey. The entire process is very long, so it is important to know that this phase may take much longer than expected. Luckily, I have some tips that will help you along the way!

Timing Is Everything With Autism!

We tried toilet training when my daughter Elizabeth was two years old. We quickly came to the conclusion she was not ready. At this same time, she was just diagnosed with autism, and this was the height of her overall regression. In hindsight, it was almost foolish for us to attempt to potty train at this point in her development.

We fully jumped into potty training when she was about three years old. There is no set timetable for this, but many children on the autism spectrum do not start toileting as quickly as their typical developing peers.

First Potty Training Attempt

I am sharing our many attempts and tips to make this milestone as smooth as possible. Don’t worry; wherever you are in your potty-training journey, there are many things you can do to make the process less stressful.

Elizabeth’s pediatrician advised us to get a potty training seat for a regular adult toilet rather than a training potty because she thought children mistake the potty for a toy. Also, the pediatrician thought it would save us a step down the road if she started on a regular toilet vs. a training potty. Elizabeth was initially terrified about sitting on a regular toilet and refused to sit, resulting in bad meltdowns. This advice made sense on paper, but in reality, it didn’t work for a tiny child who was afraid of falling into a toilet.

Second Potty Training Attempt…

Eventually, we ignored the pediatrician’s advice and purchased a small training potty. It even made flushing sounds. I showed Elizabeth what to do with a little doll we had and sat the doll on the potty. She was interested and flushed the toilet a few times. We placed the training potty in her bathroom and would have her sit on it before her nightly bath. This eventually helped her overcome her fears.

Next, we were advised to let Elizabeth go without diapers and put her in regular underwear. This strategy caused a lot of drama. She wanted her diaper back and did not like wearing underwear. Then, I was advised to let my child go without wearing clothes. None of those options worked for us. Instead, Elizabeth wore training diapers that she could pull up for a long time.

More Potty Progress…

Finally, we thought we were ready to try the regular toilet with a folding potty seat on top. Elizabeth would only sit for a few seconds and pop back up. Eventually, she would sit for a few more seconds, but I thought this is impossible, she is not sitting long enough for anything to happen. There was no way to bribe her or motivate her. Sticker charts and food rewards didn’t work for her. I knew we would have to get her to sit on a toilet someday soon as she would fill up her diapers so much they would start leaking.

The Light Bulb Moment!

It is incredible that after trying every other option, the solution became apparent out of sheer desperation. Every single time we tried previously, I was always just a few seconds too late to get her to the potty, resulting in rivers of urine on my floors, trying all the other methods.

If only I could predict when she would go, could I get her on the toilet in time? Then I realized the only time I could accurately predict when she would go was within 15 to 30 minutes of waking up in the morning. On a random Friday night, I set my alarm to wake up before her for Saturday morning. I prepared our bathroom and removed all potential distractions. I gathered a few favorite toys and a tablet that had her games loaded to keep her entertained in the bathroom and to keep it a positive experience.

Action Plan

First, the moment she woke up, I took her to the bathroom, and we waited. She stayed in her two-piece pajamas with a diaper so I could easily get her on the toilet when she was ready.

Next, I gave her some juice to drink while we waited in the bathroom. About two hours into the waiting process, she could not hold her bladder anymore. I got her onto the toilet in time, and there was only a little mess on the floor. It was amazing! She was a little scared going on the toilet, but once she completely urinated, you could see all that fear had gone away.

Maintaining The Plan…

We implemented the same strategy the following day, and it went much faster—she was no longer scared! We continued to give her opportunities to use the potty each day.

Do not feel bad if your child is not entirely potty trained on a weekend, as many conventional methods teach parents. The most important thing is to go at your child’s pace.

Over time, she relied on her pull-up diapers much less, and within six months, she did not need to wear diapers anymore! We could have pushed a little harder to get rid of diapers sooner, but we didn’t feel comfortable doing that in public places. At home, we could let her go all day without diapers.

Potty Training Lessons Learned

  1. Do Not Rush: Wait until your child shows signs of readiness, like increased awareness of bodily functions or curiosity about the toilet. Each child progresses at their own pace. Elizabeth had the appropriate body awareness at about three years old.
  2. Create Visual Tools: Create a visual story with pictures of the bathroom and toilet steps. This can be done using PECS (picture exchange communication system) or taking photos. We combined both, then laminated the images and placed them in a binder.
  3. Positive Environment: Make the bathroom a welcoming and non-intimidating space. Invest in a child-friendly potty chair or seat reducer for the regular toilet. Bring a few small toys into the bathroom and perhaps a tablet to help pass the time.
  4. Consistency: I learned from another mom with a child on the autism spectrum that they kept a log for a couple of weeks before they even attempted potty training. They logged when their child’s diaper was wet and soiled for a couple of weeks to learn their child’s patterns. This will save you hours of sitting in the bathroom when they may not even have the urge to go.
  5. Celebrate Progress: Praise and reward small achievements, such as just sitting on the toilet. Offer verbal praise and small trinkets to reinforce success.
  6. Stay Calm: Accidents are part of the learning process. Stay positive and reassure your child that it’s okay to make mistakes.
  7. Encourage Independence: Allow your child to take on small tasks like wiping themselves, flushing, and washing hands. This fosters confidence and independence. Posting a sign in the bathroom will help reinforce these steps.
  8. Be Prepared for Setbacks: Regression is normal, especially during times of stress or change. Offer support, maintain positivity, and be understanding during setbacks.

Remember that every child is unique – what works for one may not work for another. Happy potty training!

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