A Mom's Tips on How to Toilet Train Children With 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