Ms. Olivares is certified in special education. She works closely to promote the academic and social development of her son, who has autism.
Potty Training Tips for Autistic Children
Potty training any child can be quite a challenge. Potty training a child with autism may seem impossible, but it can be done. Of course every child on the autism spectrum is unique in their respective abilities and needs. Parents will be the best judge in determining whether a child is capable of being potty trained.
As a parent of a child diagnosed with autism, I know that potty training can be a very challenging area.
There are a few things you can do to prepare yourself for the task of potty training. Consider which items below will serve the special needs and levels of understanding for your child.
- Install a potty-related app from iTunes on your phone or iPad
- Purchase a picture book about potty time
- Purchase a video about potty time
- Create a picture schedule and assign a potty time
- Create flashcards or lists of steps (lower pants, wait, push, wipe, raise pants, flush, wash hands)
- Create a reward system
- Modeling - consider bringing your child with you every time you need to go to the bathroom. Verbalize all the steps. Mommy needs to pee, mommy needs to lower her pants and so forth. Fathers can be a helpful role model for teaching boys to stand when peeing.
There are several possibilities that potty training may fail. Keep in mind that these possibilities occur whether a child has autism or not. Sensory issues are probably the biggest factor.
Things to consider
- Sound - the child may be afraid of the flush. This is especially common in the echo filled and power flush bathrooms in public places.
- Sound - a ventilation fan may be too noisy or uncomfortable for sensitive ears
- Physical instability - the child may feel uncomfortable sitting naked on a potty. Children in the autism spectrum may be sensitive to the drafty sensation their bottom may experience when exposed on a potty.
- Touch and Texture - Several children in the spectrum have issues with touch and texture. This may pose a problem when training them to wipe.
- Awareness - Knowing when to help 'push it out' and knowing when to stop.
- Flushing - my first suggestion is to try everything possible to have your child do the actual flushing. If sound or fear seems to be an issue provide a form of praise and reward. Picture schedules can be surprisingly successful. Another alternative is to purchase earmuffs (sound protectors) for your child. If covering their ears is common this may provide the relief and comfort they seek. I purchased shooting range ear muffs at my local sporting goods store for about $24.
- Physical instability - Some children are uncomfortable sitting on a toilet seat or potty. Many fear they will fall in and don't like the exposed feeling. Consider sitting right in front of them with your palms on their thighs. Talking to them and praising them with a soothing voice will encourage them to use the potty and make them feel more comfortable. Slowly withdraw your hands at each sitting until you no longer have to place your hands on their thighs. An encouraging, "You did it by yourself," with a warm smile and a hug or high five will reinforce their actions.
- Touch and Texture - Resistance to wiping is not uncommon and is often a challenge with the average child. They are so used to mommy wiping with baby wipes that the physical process of doing this themselves can be confusing to them. Point of view is important here. Wiping yourself is in fact an awkward movement and a toddler may not be very understanding of this physical challenge. If the texture of the tissue is a problem take a piece of toilet paper and have the child wipe their forearm. Say soothing words like, "look how soft that is."
- Pushing - Some children do not understand the concept of pushing. For some reason some children cannot connect the action of pushing into a diaper the same as pushing when on a potty. One of the things you can do is take your child's hand and place it on your lower abdomen. Physically push as you press their hand against you. Then have them repeat this on their own body. For urinating, use your fist as a visual example, hold in a fist to show you are "holding it in" and open flat to demonstrate releasing the muscles to "let it out."
Possible issues for you to consider if your child is struggling: your child they may be confusing "pushing out" with contracting and "holding in." Telling them to push and "open" may help them realize they need unclench their anus.
Tips and Tricks
Modeling with a toy potty and a doll is not only funny for some children, it helps get the point across.
Prior to the actual act of potty training talk to the child of what they are going to be learning. Diaper changing times are a great time to enthusiastically share the news. Don't forget YOU will set the tone so be happy and enthusiastic.
Track your child's eating and diaper change habits for one week. Document times. Use these times as your future potty times.
Consider keeping your child diaper-less as you potty train. This will require you to be very vigilant. Many moms swear that this is the surest and quickest way to potty train.
Buy big girl panties or underwear with your child. Be enthusiastic about the purchase.
Have your child help pick out their potty chair from the store. Make this a big event filled with enthusiasm and praise.
Select a wardrobe of easy to remove pants and shorts. You don't want to frustrate your child with busy buttons and zippers.
All of these tips and tricks will help keep potty training on the forefront. You don't want to take your child by surprise. This can immediately lead to a meltdown and delayed success. Be patient and understanding. Children can quickly pick up on your emotions. One of the most important things that I have learned is that although my son did not look at me in the eye he knew my mood. Therefore, plan for the event and make your child a part of the planning. This will help ensure your mutual success.
I mentioned potty-training apps above. You may also be interested in another article I wrote: Phone Applications for Kids with Autism. In this article, I discuss how apps can help you and your child gain the focus and communication that will enhance growth in a variety of social and academic areas. These outcomes are impressive and provide great hope for those affected by autism and special needs.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2012 Marisa Hammond Olivares
Ms Ring on October 10, 2016:
Hi Ms Olive,
I was wondering if there is an app for Android devices, because I don't have an iPad or iphone...my l.o. has asd with hyperkinesis and sensitive hearing so potty training is extremely difficult to accomplish. I read all your tips and was hopeful, until the mention of the ipad/iPhone...
Any suggestions are welcome
Marisa Hammond Olivares (author) from Texas on July 03, 2014:
thank you for your input Terrye. Your experience may help others as they read this comment thread. I hope the potty training happens soon. You'll know when he is ready.
Shabbychicmomma, our kiddos can sure be stubborn, can't they? My son has taught me a lesson or two about convictions. Parenting and power struggles, something we can never underestimate. I am very glad to hear your son has improved. Age, awareness and experience are true lessons in life. Thank you for stopping by again.
Cheryl Wortman from Keizer,Oregon on July 03, 2014:
Thank you for your response MissOlive and TToombs08. I have done the reward and taking his favorite things away. In fact his Wii U is his favorite and he has went without it for three weeks so far. It is trial and error every day. I am an early childhood teacher assistant and do work with kids a lot, my son is so much better than he used to be at a younger age. I thank God for all the schools and programs he has been going to from age of three because he has excelled so much. :)
Terrye Toombs from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map. on July 02, 2014:
I can completely empathize with you, shabbychicmomma! I have a 7 almost 8 year old that isn't toilet trained. We went through a period last summer where every time he had a bowel movement, he would dig it out of his pullup and smear it on the walls, furniture or toys. This was happening at least once a day.
As MissOlive suggested, the reward and punishment system worked GREAT! When he would make a mess, we would take away his iPad (his favorite thing) for at least an hour (lots of tantrums). And we would explain when we gave it back, that if he did it again, he'd lose it again. If he went a day without making that certain kind of mess, he got his favorite fun sized KitKat bar after dinner for a reward. After about 2 weeks, he no longer make the messes and in fact, would come to us and let us know that he'd had a BM. Now if only I could get him potty trained! Still working on that! :D
Good luck to you and I hope you get it all sorted out!
Marisa Hammond Olivares (author) from Texas on July 02, 2014:
Hi shabbychicmomma, wow, I can see how this would be difficult. I am by no means an expert but I am a mom that has dealt with unusual behaviors with my own son (and students). Behaviorists suggest the standard of reward for good behavior and punish for bad behavior. Punishment is not physical punishment and the focus should be on the good behavior. I'm sure by now you know what activities, games, foods your son likes. Reward him for his good behavior by allowing him to do one of his favorite activities and punish his bad behavior by taking the activity away. I'm sure a tantrum might follow (been there). Consistency and clarity of the behavior expected is crucial. He needs to know what is expected of him and he needs to understand cause and effect. You have to choose your battles and find a discipline routine you and your son can both realistically handle. Also, how often does he do what you don't want him to do? Does it happen daily, weekly or monthly? Based on your response you need to decide when he will be rewarded for not doing what you don't want him to do. The reward would be either at the end of the day, end of the week or end of the month. Good luck to you
Cheryl Wortman from Keizer,Oregon on July 01, 2014:
My son has mild autism as well, the problem I have now is he is 12 almost and he goes on toilet but does have his moments where he still lays on his floor instead of his bed and I catch him putting his fingers in his bottom. This grosses me out and I have him go take a shower. Then the shower gets it all over and I wish there was a way to stop this habit. Any suggestions?
Stefanie on January 18, 2014:
This tips are really great and we will definitely have to share with our followers. If you are looking for more tools as well, check out our new Potty Training social story app. It allows a parent or professional to load images of their child. Check it out for Free! http://thepottyshow.preschoology.com/
Marisa Hammond Olivares (author) from Texas on December 09, 2013:
Hi Sara, you will know when it is the right time for your child, she may surprise you though. Regardless, I hope it is a smooth process for all involved. Best wishes to you and your daughter and thank you for bookmarking.
Sara Bladestorm from Joetsu, Japan on December 04, 2013:
I've been toying with the idea of venturing into this territory soon. My daughter is autistic, and I wonder if two years old is too early to potty train. I would love it if she could, but it might not be our reality yet. I'm definitely bookmarking this post for when we're ready to start!
Marisa Hammond Olivares (author) from Texas on April 28, 2013:
Tayshia, well, most 3 yr olds have a mind all their own. I hope everything eventually works out and I do hope the tips have helped.
sccanseco, thank you so much, I appreciate the votes and comment. Best wishes to you.
sccanseco on April 01, 2013:
Great Hub! I will definitely be using some of your tips with my 3-year-old son. Voted up and useful!
Tayshia on February 09, 2013:
Great tips! My 3.5 year old likes concept but not the execution.... Ugh!
Marisa Hammond Olivares (author) from Texas on September 15, 2012:
kelleyward, Hi Kelley, thanks so much for sharing this with your friends. I do hope this will help ease them and their child through the process.
cclitgirl, thanks Cyndi and I appreciate the votes too.
thewritingowl, every child is different. Both of you will know when it is time. I do hope everything works out. Thanks so much for reading and commenting. I'd love to hear back from you as your experience may also help others.
Mary Kelly Godley from Ireland on September 14, 2012:
Thanks I will share this on my facebook. My son is nearly 5 and we are still working on it (although I would want to actually put a bit of effort into it now I think).
Cynthia Calhoun from Western NC on September 14, 2012:
Great tips and tricks you have listed here. I know your experiences will definitely help others. Voted up and away. :)
kelleyward on September 14, 2012:
Thanks for sharing this missolive. I'm sharing it with a couple of friends I know who are in the process of potty training their children who have autism. Voted up and shared. Kelley
Marisa Hammond Olivares (author) from Texas on August 26, 2012:
I hearautism, it sounds like you are on the right path. Best wishes with all of your endeavors.
h.a.n.d.s. from canada on August 14, 2012:
wow this is great information, I'm still working on some diet changes and decreasing my son's hyperactive behaviour, and working on his attention span. I will definitely come here when I'm ready to take this challenge on :)
Marisa Hammond Olivares (author) from Texas on April 26, 2012:
stephchicks68 - thank you very much for reading and commenting. I appreciate the votes too :)
molometer - hi there! Glad to see you came by to read and comment. Yes, awareness and training is definitely lacking. I hope my hub helps give parents a bit of guidance. Thank you for your votes and for sharing.
phdast7 - I'm thrilled your three little ones succeeded in this interesting lil' step we go through. I'm happy you agree with the suggestions I have included in this hub. Thank you for your lovely comment, I appreciate it.
Emma Harvey - your comment is proof that every child is different and will accept the challenge in their own unique way. I'm pleased to hear he did move forward and that he is now out of his nappy. Congratulations! :) Thank you for including your experience in the comment thread.
RealHouswife - books are awesome Kelly. Especially with fun sound effects like a toilet flushing. (giggle) Thank you for reading, voting and all that ;)
Millionaire Tips - hi! Yes, children with autism face additional issues that make difficult things a bit harder at times. I'm glad your daughter got past this stage. I appreciate your comment and your votes.
tirelesstraveler - Thank you. Yes, these tips would be useful for all children. I'm glad you found this hub during this time. Best wishes on a successful potty training transition with your son. :)
TToombs08 - I'm glad these tips seem helpful. I've heard of many children needing to be potty trained more than once. Perhaps this time he will be ready. Good luck and thank you for taking the time to read and comment.
Terrye Toombs from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map. on April 18, 2012:
VERY timely hub, thank you! We are attempting to potty train our autistic son for the second time (he's 5). I will be employing some if not all of your helpful hints.
Judy Specht from California on April 16, 2012:
Excellent hub. These tips will work for any child. I never thought to track diaper times;then use those times for training. I will pass the idea on to my daughter.
Shasta Matova from USA on April 15, 2012:
These are great potty training tips. They would have come in handy for me as I was training my daughter. I hadn't thought about the additional complications autism would cause in potty training. Voted up.
Kelly Umphenour from St. Louis, MO on April 12, 2012:
I used to have this book that had a button and when the kids pushed it - it made the sound of the toilet flusing! I also bought the book "everybody poops." lol
I was always so worried about stressing my girls out - I did let them just wing it. You hear about some really bad residual problems if children have problems at that stage.
Voted up and all that!
Emma Kisby from Berkshire, UK on April 09, 2012:
Great hub once again miss o, especially for those with children with special needs.
Potty training is stressful for the parent which in turn make it stressful for the child - and children with ASD see things in ways you may not consider.
I never managed to get my autistic son to use a potty at all, and he only has mild asd traits. The toilet was one thing he did in his own time. He has full control over his bodily functions and chose when to go (when he wore a nappy), but after trying everything I relaxed and let him do it when he was ready.
He was 5 and at school when he was out of nappies but I had to just let him let me know when he was ready - and when he was, he was straight to the toilet - no more nappies!
Theresa Ast from Atlanta, Georgia on April 09, 2012:
Terrific Hub. My three sons potty trained relatively easily, but still I wish I had had a Hub like yours back then. So much of your advice the structure, the enthusiasm, sensitivity to new sounds and sensations, picking out their own potty)would facilitate potty training any child. Absolutely wonderful ideas and so well-written.
Micheal is from United Kingdom on April 09, 2012:
This is a wonderful insight into the challenges faced by parents and children, especially with the added complication of autism.
I have learned a lot from reading this hub, on autism itself, something that is sadly lacking in general teacher training.
Well done Marissa and thank you for sharing this with us all.
Voted up and 4/5 buttons pressed. Sharing.
Stephanie Marshall from Bend, Oregon on April 03, 2012:
What a great resource! I understand that autistic children often have sensory issues, and of course it would be more difficult to potty train them. Super hub, as usual! Rating up across the board. Best, Steph
Marisa Hammond Olivares (author) from Texas on April 02, 2012:
Lord de Cross, thank you Lord. There are several 'potty' apps that will help our lil' visual learners understand the concept. Yes, as you know - schedules are very important. Thank you for reading and commenting.
sholland10, Hi Susan! You are so sweet and you always leave great comments. The simplest thing can trigger fear or a meltdown. Knowing these things in advance will help provide an effective plan for training. Thanks for the votes and sharing.
MissE, Thank you! I appreciate you sharing this hub with them.
rajan jolly, Hi there! Thank you - being practical is important when training and supporting a child. I appreciate you stopping by to read and comment. Thank you for sharing and voting. :)
StephanieBCrosby, How sweet of you! Thank you so much. Perspective is very important. Understanding how a child might interpret things helps a parent be more aware. Thank you for your readership. :)
Ardie, I'm glad you liked my solutions and tips. Nobody said parenting was easy. I'm still looking for the foolproof instruction manual :) By the way, my halo is more than a bit crooked and tarnished, but it's mine. Thanks for your support ;)
randomcreative, those loud power flush toilets scare even me. These issues can be especially dramatic for a child with sensory issues. You are right, adaptions do go a long way. Thank you for sharing your experiences.
Thank you to each of you for taking the time to read, Your support is greatly appreciated.
Rose Clearfield from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on April 02, 2012:
This is a great resource for parents and teachers. When I taught special ed, I had several students who strongly disliked or even feared the auto flush toilets in the school. Giving them the option to use a non-auto flush toilet made a huge difference in their bathroom independence and overall success. Making one or two simple adaptations can go a long way.
Sondra from Neverland on April 02, 2012:
Potty training is a difficult part of parenting - for ANY child in my opinion :) But for the child who is sensitive to lights, sounds, textures and what-not it must be very very VERY hard. I love that you offer solutions to the problems instead of just listing the common problems. You are an angel MO
Stephanie Bradberry from New Jersey on April 02, 2012:
What an awesome article. I think we tend to forget that some of the basic skills we must teach are kids--that are already difficult--become so much more so when there is a difference in certain abilities.
I love that you tackled this subject matter and hope it gets a wide readership.
Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on April 02, 2012:
Marisa, a very educative and practical guide to train an autistic child in one of the most important daily routines.
Your practical experience shines out in this hub.
Great hub. Voted up and shared.
MissE from Texas on April 02, 2012:
This a great! I'll be sharing with a friend! :)
Susan Holland from Southwest Missouri on April 02, 2012:
Potty training can be difficult with children without autism. I never thought about some of the fears or sensitivities autistic children may have during this time. I like the journaling idea because the way I understand it, many autistic children are extremely schedule oriented. Your hub is great advice with great tips! Thanks for sharing. Votes and shared. :-)
Joseph De Cross from New York on April 01, 2012:
Wonderful tips from a real mom with the problem at hand. The Ipad and iTune apps advice is excellent, keeping up with the times, and your child. We know that repetition is a need in them, so giving them something to play with and keep them busy is awesome! Thanks Marissa!