Toilet Training Tips for Your Autistic Child, Do’s and Don’ts
For children on the autism spectrum, toilet training can take quite a bit longer, and can be a frustrating experience. Check out our blog on Toilet Training Your Autistic Child to learn helpful strategies. Below is a list of specific toilet training ideas and suggestions. All of these may not be effective or appropriate for your situation. Use your judgment about what you think will help your child. Take your time. Do your best not to get overwhelmed by trying to do too much at once. For many children, even though delayed, when they are ready training goes fairly easily.
1. Don’t interrupt a favorite activity to do toilet training. Arrange toilet training when there is a break, or change of activity. If you have to interrupt an activity, give your child notice, don’t just pull him out of the activity. For example, “It’s almost time to go potty;” “after this song, it’s time to go pee pee;” or “when you finish the puzzle, then it’s time to go potty.”
2. Don’t force your child to participate in toilet training. Make sitting on the toilet a fun, pleasurable experience. Being firm is okay, but it’s better to motivate your child by using rewards, and having favorite activities in the bathroom. You can also put up pictures of favorite cartoon characters by the toilet.
Play your child’s favorite music/song or sing with her. Keep a favorite book in the bathroom to read when your child sits on the toilet. Put 1 or 2 favorite toys in the bathroom that he can play with only during toileting. It is most helpful if these activities are only done while the child is on the toilet, so he can look forward to the toilet and have a positive association with it.
3. Don’t make your child sit for long periods of time. If she only sits for a few seconds at first, that’s okay. Praise your child for sitting. The current goal can be to gradually increase the amount of time your child sits. A later goal would be for him to actually void in the toilet.
4. Don’t force toilet training. Try training for a while, and then back off if there is no progress, or if your child is being more resistant. You can make matters worse if there is too much pressure around toileting. The bottom line is that it’s your child’s body, and he controls it. If you or your child becomes frustrated, or if your child develops other behavior problems (fears, resistance, tantrums, sibling conflicts, etc.), discontinue toilet training. There may be other issues involved, or your child may not be ready.
5. Don’t be concerned if your child does not initiate toileting. If she can stay dry when you take her on a schedule or when you tell her, this is a good goal for now. When your child consistently stays dry, you can try extending the time between toileting to see if she will feel it and go on her own. If your child regresses, then return to the regular schedule. Your child may not sense the need to void at all, or until her bladder is very full. She may not feel it in time to tell you, or to go to the toilet herself. Sometimes, initiating going to the toilet can take a few years for your child to develop that skill.
6. Don’t react negatively when your child wets or soils. Be matter-of-fact. Say, “pee pee / poo poo (or whatever word you like) goes in the potty.” Then change your child and have him participate in the cleaning up process as much as possible. It can be helpful if your child watches you empty the soiled diaper in the toilet, or empties it himself. But, don’t make this process negative or punish your child.
7. Don’t react to strong smells. You can matter-of-factly comment on the smell, or talk about it with humor. But, don’t talk negatively about it, such as telling your child they stink. Feces come out of our child’s body and making negative comments can be misunderstood and confusing to your child.
1. Make sure the toilet seat is comfortable – so your child can relax and sit comfortably without having to prop herself up. Use a potty chair, or an adaptive seat that fits over the regular toilet. Also, use a step stool to support your child’s feet, and so eventually they can learn to get on the toilet by themselves.
2. The bathroom and toilet seat needs to be at a comfortable temperature. Make sure the bathroom and seat are warm enough. Some children are sensitive to temperature and may resist toileting in a cold bathroom.
3. Encourage your child assist in the toileting/cleaning process, by asking her to empty the diaper in the toilet, throw the diaper away, get a clean diaper, pull up and down her own pants, etc.
4. It is best to do toilet activities in the bathroom when possible, including changing diapers, so your child associates voiding with the bathroom.
5. For some children, it can help to encourage their independence in all areas. Toilet training is increasing your child’s independence. When you encourage your child to become independent in other areas, it follows that you encourage him to become more independent with toileting too. Increase your child’s independence by encouraging small steps, such as when you put a shirt over his head, have your child pull it down the rest of the way. Fade out the use of the bottle or sippy cup, while encouraging and praising using a regular cup. You may gradually transition your child to sleep by himself.
6. Routines are extremely important, especially when establishing a toilet training schedule. As much as you can, make sleep and nap schedule at the same time every day, including weekends. Establishing regular meal times is helpful too. However, some children are “snackers” and naturally eat small amounts of food throughout the day, so regular meal times may not be as helpful for them. Having regular morning and evening routines, and an order to daily activities will provide structure for your child as well as help with toilet training.
7. Establish a toilet schedule based on the frequency your child typically voids, and at natural transition times. You can also make it routine to go to the toilet before going out somewhere, and before going to school. The most natural times for toileting are when waking, before bath and bedtimes. If these are the only times you can fit it in, this is a good start. Other good times for toileting are before doing something she likes to do, such as going outside to play, watching a video, or eating a meal or snack.
8. Giving your child choices whenever possible can help avoid power struggles that can happen during toilet training. If your child has a hard time making choices, start with a just two things. For example, you could ask him to pick a snack from 2 options, or 2 different shirts. You can also give your child a choice of when to go to the toilet, such as before or after she brushes her teeth.
9. Use the same toileting words, such as potty, toilet, pee pee, wee wee, pooh, etc. It’s helpful to share these words with your child’s teacher. Everyone using the same words can help your child understand what you mean.
10. It is helpful to schedule some times where your child goes without a diaper. Try it when she is playing outside on a warm day. This way your child feels it when she is urinating, instead of in a diaper, where the urine just get absorbed. You can also have her drink more liquids during this time to increase the chances she’ll urinate.
11. When you see your child voiding, be matter-of-fact, and state what is happening, such as “You’re going pee pee. That goes in the toilet.” Guide your child into the bathroom. Do not startle your child by grabbing him and racing to the toilet. If your child is beginning to have bowel movement, and if you can gently guide him to the so he can finish in the toilet, this can be helpful. But, don’t abruptly interrupt your child, and rush him to the toilet, because he might withhold the bowel movement. And, in the future, he may what to hide from you or hold in his bowel movements.
12. You can try toilet training where you give your child extra liquids, and then take her to the toilet frequently to try to catch her going in the toilet, and then reward her. This is not recommended on a regular basis, because if it doesn’t work pretty quickly, your child can get frustrated and fight going to the toilet.
13. It’s helpful if your child can see others using the toilet, if you are comfortable with that (parents, siblings, or when toileting with classmates).
14. Go over toileting books and videos with your child that holds his interest.
15. You can use a timer to remind yourself and/or your child when it is time to go to the bathroom.
16. Most children have accidents after they have been toilet trained. The accidents will usually get less and less frequent. It is also common for toilet accidents to increase during stress or major changes, like moving, or the birth of a sibling. Accept these regressions, and gently retrain your child the way you did it the first time. He will most likely return to going in the toilet. If there are complications, feel free to contact us.
17. Help your child feel successful by praising/rewarding small steps. If your child never experiences success, he is likely to become discouraged and give up. This website offers free printable potty training charts.
18. Some children find it helpful to have a picture book/board that shows steps of the toileting process. You can use drawings, or actual pictures of your child. (Some children love looking at pictures of themselves!) Review the picture sequence with him before, during and/or after toileting.
For questions or assistance with toilet training, feel free to contact us.