Autism: Potty Train Your Child

· ·
little girl sitting on toilet watching a screen

Toilet training marks a significant developmental milestone for children, yet it presents unique challenges, particularly for those on the autism spectrum. In our previous blog, Potty Train With Compassion-Part 1, we delved into the hurdles posed by interoception and language delays. If you haven’t had the chance to read it, I highly recommend doing so before proceeding with this post.

When embarking on toilet training with autistic children, employing the right strategies and support is crucial for success. We’ll dive deeper into identifying the initial skill to focus on and explore specific strategies tailored to individual needs.

Identifying the Starting Point

Every child is different, so determining where to begin requires careful consideration. Some may find it challenging to sit on the toilet, while others may struggle with simply entering the bathroom due to past negative experiences. To pinpoint the starting point, check out our free toilet training guide, complete with a skills checklist available here.

The checklist includes essential skills such as:

  • Communicating the need to use the toilet
  • Walking into the bathroom
  • Pulling down pants and underwear or pull-up
  • Sitting on the toilet
  • Using the toilet for peeing and pooping
  • Wiping and disposing of toilet paper
  • Pulling up underwear or pull-up and pants
  • Flushing the toilet
  • Walking to the sink for handwashing

Choose one or a few skills to focus on initially, depending on the child’s individual needs. For instance, if a child resists walking into the bathroom, start by addressing that specific skill in a calm and pressure-free environment.

As you continue to check off skills on the checklist, you can continue to add a new skill to the process. You don’t have to go “in order”. Just choose the skill that you think your child or student would be able to successfully learn next.  

Throughout this process, just remember that we want to reduce the pressure on them and work one or two small baby steps at a time. This is not a quick fix… “potty train your child in 3 days” type of approach. It’s a compassionate, less stressful approach that will bring about lasting results over time.

Implementing Strategies For Potty Training

Once you’ve identified the skills to target, it’s time to employ strategies and supports to facilitate learning. Here are five effective approaches:

  1. Visual Sequences: Utilize visual supports like visual sequences or schedules to outline the steps involved in toilet training. These visuals provide clarity and reduce anxiety by offering a clear, step-by-step guide.
  2. Social Stories: Craft short narratives, supplemented with pictures, to explain the toilet training process. Social stories help children understand what to expect and address any anxieties they may have.
  3. Video Modeling: Show videos of individuals successfully using the toilet to aid visual learners in understanding expected behaviors through imitation.
  4. Visual Supports in the Bathroom: Modify the bathroom environment with visual supports, such as visual sequences for handwashing, to create a predictable routine and enhance comprehension.
  5. Patience, Consistency, and Flexibility: Approach toilet training with patience and flexibility, adapting to each child’s pace and needs. Consistency in routines and approaches is key to establishing success.

Addressing Sensory Aspects

Sensory sensitivities play a significant role in toilet training for autistic children. Creating a sensory-friendly environment in the bathroom can alleviate discomfort and enhance the overall experience. The best person to talk to about these sensory strategies is your child’s occupational therapist. They can help you with ideas to try out when it comes to the bathroom. Here are some additional points to consider when addressing sensory aspects during toilet training:

  1. Sensory-friendly Toileting Environment: Creating a sensory-friendly environment in the bathroom can help alleviate sensory challenges. You may want to consider the following:
    • Lighting: Adjust the lighting to reduce harsh glare or shadows that may cause discomfort. Dimmer switches or soft lighting, like a lamp, are options that can be beneficial.
    • Noise: Minimize auditory distractions by using noise-canceling devices or providing soothing background sounds like soft music or white noise. Consider using a sound machine to mask loud or sudden noises from plumbing or flushing. Some children will also benefit from wearing noise-reducing headphones in the bathroom if they are nervous about the sound of flushing.
  2. Sensory Sensitivities to Textures: Some autistic children may have aversions to certain textures associated with toileting, such as toilet paper or wet wipes. Address these sensitivities by:
    • Introducing Alternative Textures: Experiment with different types of toilet paper, wet wipes, or even cloth alternatives to find options that are more tolerable for the child. Sensory-friendly products or those specifically designed for sensitive skin may be helpful.
    • Gradual Exposure: Gradually introduce the child to new textures by allowing them to touch or explore them in a non-threatening manner. This can be done through sensory play activities or sensory bins that incorporate textures similar to those encountered during toileting.
  3. Sensory Supports for Self-regulation: Sensory tools can aid in self-regulation and reduce anxiety during toileting. Consider the following options:
    • Weighted Blankets or Lap Pads: These sensory tools provide deep pressure and can promote relaxation and a sense of security. Using them before or during toileting can help the child feel more grounded and calm.  An occupational therapist can guide you with when and how long to use weighted blankets and lap pads.
    • Fidget Toys or Squeezy Balls: Providing small, handheld fidget toys or stress balls can help redirect sensory input and reduce anxiety or restlessness during toilet training sessions. The child can engage with these items while sitting on the toilet to enhance focus and relaxation.
    • Sensory Breaks: Allow for sensory breaks or sensory activities before or after toileting to help the child regulate their sensory system. These breaks can involve preferred sensory activities such as swinging, bouncing on a therapy ball, or engaging in deep pressure exercises. Again, talk to an occupational therapist to choose what might work best for each individual child.

By taking into account the sensory aspects that might need to be addressed, you can create a more comfortable and accommodating environment for toilet training autistic children. Remember that each child’s sensory profile is unique, so it’s important to observe their responses and adjust the strategies accordingly to promote a positive and successful toileting experience.

Is potty training your autistic child or students stressing you out? Solve your potty training challenges with an individualized toilet training plan that will leave you feeling confident that you can move your child or student forward in their toileting journey! Potty Train With Compassion is the answer to your potty training challenges. This mini-course helps educators and parents of young autistic children go from feeling overwhelmed with toilet training to be confident and less stressed. Get started today with immediate access!

If you want to read more about potty training and autism, click the links for the blog posts below:

Episode 19

Autism and Toileting Made Easier: 3 Tips For Success

Toilet Training Using Social Stories for Young Learners With Autism

If you use visual supports in your classroom or home, you are going to want to sign up for this free Visual Supports Starter Set ASAP! Click here to have one sent to your inbox. Also, be sure to read more about visual supports and how they can help autistic children here.

a picture with a variety of visual supports for autistic children there is an all done symbol, a wait mat, a first-then board, a visual schedule, an adapted book and a change card

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *