Toilet Training Autistic Children

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If you joined us for Part 1 and 2 of this series, you are READY for these tips and tricks. If you haven’t read them, go and do that now and come back to this one.

Potty Training With Compassion-Part 1

Potty Training With Compassion-Part 2

We’ve talked about WHY toilet training can be more difficult for autistic children. Interoception differences and delay, as well as language delays can make it harder to get started with toilet training. Despite that, there are skills you can work on, no matter where your child or student is on this potty journey. In the last two blog posts we talked about how to use visuals and sensory tools to help. Now, I’ll be sharing 12 additional tips and tricks that have worked for me and parents I have supported over the last 2 decades. These tips are in no particular order and like with everything, take what speaks to you and leave the rest.

#1-Establish Bathroom Routine

Start changing diapers and pull ups in the bathroom. So many of my students thrive on routine, and if the routine is changing diapers in a variety of rooms in the house, it might be hard to make the connection that we pee and poop in the bathroom. We want to make an association between the bathroom and bathroom-related activities. This consistent practice helps the child understand that the bathroom is the designated place to change pull ups and eventually pee and poop.  

#2-Transition to Standing

Consider transitioning to changing your child while standing, starting around age 3. This approach, although unconventional, encourages active participation in the toileting process. Gradually introduce sitting on the toilet during these sessions, praising progress along the way. 

#3-Involve in Cleanup Process

Another thing that may help with the transition from diapers to the toilet is involving the child in the cleanup process. This can include having them help dump a bowel movement into the toilet. While it may be a little messy, this step can help establish a connection between using the toilet and where the poop should go.  Ensure that the child is comfortable and safe during this process, using gloves or other sanitary measures as necessary.

#4-Customize Toileting Position

To sit or to stand…that is the question! Talk to the child’s parents first to see what they prefer or if they are already practicing it. I’ve had some kids who sit backwards on the toilet and they hold onto the back of the toilet seat. This can help them feel stable on a big toilet seat. If they do this, it naturally puts them in a forward leaning position, which will help the pee go into the toilet.  I’ve had some kids who sit forward on the seat. This has is drawback, as the little boys will likely spray pee all over the place unless you can get them to lean a little forward or if you have a pee guard on the seat. Other kids start standing up. Any way you choose to start, there are going to be times where it’s messy…it’s just part of the process.

#5-Arrange Peer Interactions

Arrange playdates or social interactions with peers who are already potty trained. Children often learn by observing others, so witnessing their peers using the toilet can be motivating and helpful. Obviously, you will want to talk to the peer’s parents to make sure you have permission to do this! Many times cousins are great for this job, as well as siblings and children of your close friends.

Toilet Training Amazon Recommendations

#6-Make Underwear Exciting

Make the transition to underwear more exciting by involving the child in choosing their own underwear. Opt for designs featuring their favorite characters or patterns, enhancing their engagement and motivation. Also, consider putting underwear on stuffed animals or dolls to demonstrate how they should be worn during play. This creative approach can make potty training a fun and collaborative experience. Many times, we have children start wearing underwear under their pull up. This allows them to feel when they are wet and that can sometimes nudge the toilet training process along.

#7-Address Fears

If you have a child or student who refuses to poop in the toilet, even when they know they are going to poop … you know, those kids who hide to poop, but then want their pull up changed because they don’t like how it feels? For kids exhibiting those characteristics, I’ve had success with cutting a hole in the bottom of their pull up. Then, if you catch them right before they have a bowel movement, and get them to sit on the toilet with their pull up on, they will think they are pooping in their pull up like usual, but it will fall through the hole and into the toilet.   Again, this sounds like an unusual strategy, but for some kids, it works! Then, they see the poop went into the toilet and you can slowly work on having them sit on the toilet without the pull up.

#8-Learn Through Play

Children often learn through play, so incorporating a doll that can “pee” can be an effective tool for potty training. Demonstrate how the doll uses the toilet, allowing the child to imitate the process with their own doll. This interactive play can help build familiarity and comfort with the idea of using the toilet and imitating the behavior of their peers. I have used the doll called “Potty Scotty” for this. He is anatomically correct, which is very helpful. Then, the child can see the pee … aka water …. going into the toilet.

#9-Utilize Timers

Sometimes timers can help a child when it comes to sitting on the toilet. It could be a digital timer, a timer app or a sand timer. This helps create a predictable routine for how long to sit.  Some options besides a timer would be singing the ABC’s or counting to a certain number. Or, you could read a book or watch a potty video on YouTube.

#10-Explore Interactive Books and Apps

Look for books that have interactive elements such as buttons, flaps, or sound effects. These books can engage the child and provide a multisensory experience while teaching about potty training. They often have relatable characters and stories that can help the child understand the process and feel more motivated to try it themselves. These are easy to find with popular characters like Daniel the Tiger, Peppa Pig and Paw Patrol.

#11-Consider Potty Training Apps

In today’s digital age, there are also potty training apps available for smartphones or tablets. These interactive apps feature engaging visuals, animations, and activities that can help teach and reinforce potty training concepts. This is something you might want to look into if you child likes that kind of thing.

#12-Potty Training Charts

Using potty training charts and stickers can be a fun and visual way to track progress and provide positive reinforcement. Children can place stickers on the chart each time they successfully use the toilet, helping them visualize their achievements and stay motivated.  Now, this will only work if the child is at a developmental level where they understand this type of thing. Also, you want it to remain a positive addition to the potty training toolbox. I’ll be honest with you, this is not a strategy I use with my young students, as most of them wouldn’t understand or be motivated by it. However, I’ve seen it work with some children as they get older and understand delayed gratification.

Remember, every child is unique, and what works for one child may not work for another. It’s essential to tailor these tips to your child’s specific needs and preferences. Patience, consistency, and a supportive environment are key to successful potty training. Celebrate even small victories along the way and remember that progress takes time.

Listen to the podcast episode on this topic: Potty Training With Compassion-Part 3

Autism And Toilet Training + Free Toileting Tracking Sheet

Toileting Training Using Social Stories for Young Learners with Autism

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 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

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