Autism And Potty Training Issues: 3 Reasons You May Be Hitting A Roadblock

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When meeting with parents of young children with autism, one of the most common questions that come up, is “how can I potty train my child?”.  There are many reasons why children with autism experience potty training issues.  Identifying these issues can help parents know how and when to start with the toilet training process.  Because of some of the unique characteristics related to autism, some children may need extra supports and strategies to assist with the potty training process.  This 3 part blog series will help guide parents and educators through the process!

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Tip #1:  Your Child or Student Is Not Showing Readiness Signs

Much like any other child, if your autistic child is not staying dry (in their diaper or pull up) for longer stretches of time, they may not be quite ready for the act of peeing or pooping in the toilet.  However, there are still steps you can take to make sure they are better prepared when the time is right!  Some of those things include:  practicing “sitting” on the toilet and making this part of their every day routine, practicing pulling their pants and underwear up and down, and wearing underwear.  If your child is at or beyond the typical age for being potty trained (3.5-4 years or older), have them pick out some underwear with favorite characters to wear OVER their diaper or pull up.  This will get the routine of wearing underwear started.  Then, pick a couple of times a day that you will take your child to the bathroom to sit on the toilet.  It’s okay if they only sit on the toilet for the count of 5 or 10.  You are doing this to start the routine of going into the bathroom and sitting on the toilet, even if it is brief.  Sometimes it can be easiest to link going to the bathroom to another activity.  For example, try sitting on the toilet after snack time or before bath time and do it every day.  The other step you can implement is using a visual support to help prompt your child or student to pull down their pants and underwear on their own.  They will most likely need your help at first, but be mindful about reducing the amount of assistance you give, as they are able to do more of that routine on their own.  If you are able to make these 3 things part of your daily routine, you will have that tackled prior to teaching them to pee and poop in the potty.  This is going to make your job so much easier and it also helps create a predictable routine for the child!  Win-win!  Download your free autism toilet training chart with visual supports here.


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Tip #2:  Your Child Or Student Experiences Sensory Differences

One of the barriers to toilet training a child with autism are the sensory differences that each child may be experiencing.  Two of the most common issues include:  the sound of the flushing toilet, and worry about sitting on the toilet (because there is a hole with water).  For children with sound sensitivities, it can be helpful to give them noise-blocking headphones to wear when in the bathroom.  You can also reduce anxiety by waiting until the child is out of the bathroom to flush the toilet.  That skill can always be worked on later if needed.  We want the bathroom experience to be less stressful for our little ones who experience hypersensitivity to sound.  As far as sitting on the toilet goes, it can be helpful to use a child-size seat on the big toilet to avoid the feeling of “falling in”.   It can also be beneficial to allow your child or student to hold a favorite little toy or book during the time they are learning to sit on the toilet  This can help distract them, and make the experience more positive.  Many children start with only sitting on the toilet for 3 seconds while holding a favorite toy.  You can always expand on the time they sit on the toilet when they are more comfortable with the routine.  The goal is to reduce anxiety and stress.  If you don’t do this, it’s going to be a huge barrier to toilet training.  Another thing that can be helpful is using a stool for the child to put their feet on so their feet aren’t hanging.  This can ensure they feel stable and secure.


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Tip #3:  Your Child Or Student Has A Language Delay

Receptive and expressive language delays can make it difficult for autistic children to understand directions related to toilet training, as well as express their need to use the bathroom.  This is where visual supports can be very useful.  Visuals can help the child understand what you are asking them to do and can help organize the sequence of steps.  If your student or child is not yet speaking (non-verbal or minimally verbal), it is important to “pair” the picture of the bathroom with your words when you tell the child that it is time to go to the bathroom.  By doing this, and having that picture readily available, your child or student may start to use the picture to communicate the need to use the toilet!


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Quick steps to get started:

  • Make sitting on the toilet part of the daily routine (even if it is a very short amount of time)

  • Have your child or student wear underwear over their diaper or pull up

  • Practice having the child help pull down and pull up their pants and underwear

  • Use visual supports

  • Identify any sensory issues that may be causing anxiety

  • Use a child-size toilet seat and/or stool to support feet

  • Allow the child to hold a favorite small toy or book

  • Show your child or student a bathroom picture every time you go into the bathroom

Other resources available from Autism Little Learners:









Download the free Toilet Training Guide to take the first steps on the potty journey! Also, be sure to listen to the 3 part potty training series on the Autism Little Learners Podcast.



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One Comment

  1. I have a son with autism and I have found that potty training is one of the most difficult things for him. I have tried everything and I am at my wits end. I have read your blog post and I think that