Autism And Toileting Made Easier: 3 Tips for Success

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Autism and toileting. Where do you even start? When you really think about it, there are so many steps that go into toilet training!  Let’s break it down, because it’s not as simple as just sitting on the toilet and peeing.  First, the child needs to go into the bathroom.  Then, there are a few steps related to undressing:  pull pants down, pull underwear or pull up down.  Next, comes sitting down on the toilet (and continuing to sit on the toilet).  This is the point at which you hope your child or student will pee or poop in the toilet.  Then comes wiping, standing up, pulling up underwear/pull up, followed by pulling up pants.  Next is flushing, and transitioning to the sink to start the steps to washing hands.  These steps are just the physical steps to toileting and don’t take into account the child’s ability to sense and predict when they need to use the bathroom or communicate that need.  In my 20+ years of experience with autistic children, the most common breakdowns in the toileting process tend to be:

  • Sensing the need to use the toilet

  • Communicating the need to use the toilet

  • A child needing to stick to the routine that they are used to

  • Sitting on the toilet

  • The motor aspect of dressing and undressing

  • Sensory issues in the bathroom related to sitting on the toilet and the sound of the flush

  • Knowing what to do when sitting on the toilet


Tip 1 – Break The Toileting Sequence Down Into Smaller Steps

The best way to start is to meet each child where they are at in their potty journey.  Use this list to identify which skills your child is already successful with and where they have some lagging skills.  That way, you can identify which baby step to take next!  You won’t feel so overwhelmed if you pick one little step to focus on at a time.  It is so important to have open communication between home and school when identifying the steps that you want to focus on next.  Sometimes, children with autism are displaying some of these skills at school, but not at home and vice versa.  Getting on the same page and filling in the gaps, as well as working on generalizing the skills from one environment to another can be the place to start first!


Tip 2 – Use Visual Supports


Visual supports can help build an understanding of what is expected and the sequence of the toileting process.  Visual supports can consist of cue cards, visual sequences, social stories, etc… A visual sequence can show the entire toileting sequence or simply show the steps you are currently working on. For example, if you are working on undressing and sitting on the toilet, you may just want to use a visual support that shows just those steps.  That can help reduce overwhelm for the child AND the adult!



Tip 3 – Keep Track Of Toileting Progress


Taking some data can really be helpful in guiding you.  It can help you decide if you are on the right track with the skills you have chosen to work on, or if you need to adjust the sails and work on a different aspect of toilet training first.  Using this free datasheet will give you some baseline data.  Where is my child or student RIGHT NOW with their toileting related skills?  When are they peeing in their diaper?  How long are they sitting on the toilet (if at all)?  These data points will direct you to the next baby step you need to take in order to make progress.  For many kids with autism, learning these steps and skills takes time and repetition.  So, as adults, we need to be patient and recognize that each little step we work on with the child will help them reach the ultimate goal of being fully toilet trained.  Just keep trying!


Other resources available from Autism Little Learners:

Book recommendations: 

The New Social Story Book:  Over 150 Social Stories that Teach Everyday Skills to Children and Adults with Autism and their Peers

The Potty Journey- Guide to Toilet Training Children with Special Needs, Including Autism and Related Disorders

If you haven’t grabbed up the FREE “Ultimate Guide For Targeting Language Skills In Young Children With Autism”, sign up to receive it now!  This jam-packed guide will help you identify where to start with your student or child’s language skills!

Ultimate Guide for Targeting Language Skills in Young Children with Autism

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One Comment

  1. Thanks for all the toilet tips training. I have a boy who LOVES Curious George. Have you created a social story with Curious George for toileting or any other skills? Hand washing?